I NEVER thought I’d say this, but here we are, two games into the regular season and I already miss Jared Sullinger. I don’t miss his apathetic attitude, I don’t miss watching him take more three-pointers than he should, and I certainly don’t miss watching him waddle up and down the court, but man do I miss his rebounding.
After barely closing out an easy home opener against the Brooklyn Nets, the Celtics traveled to Chicago last night where they lost 105-99. For a team that supposedly couldn’t shoot, the Bulls posted some impressive numbers from behind the arc, shooting 44 percent.
What’s more impressive is that Dwayne Wade, who was 7-44 from three last season, finished the game 4-6 from deep. That’s more than half the amount of three’s he hit last season, and in only one game. Whether or not that’s a fluke remains to be seen, but Wade and the rest of the Bulls hitting 3’s wasn’t the reason they won this game (but it certainly played a big part), rebounding was.
Against the Nets, the Celtics won the rebounding battle 47-44 but they played the Nets, a team they should have dominated in every aspect of the game. They followed that underwhelming performance up by getting thrashed on the boards, 55-36. Taj Gibson and Robin Lopez looked like men among boys as Lopez finished with six offensive boards, eight total and Gibson finished with 18 points and 10 boards. Even Nikola Mirotic had his way with Celtics big men, grabbing nine rebounds off the bench.
The Celtics boasted one of the league’s best defenses last year, then went out and added a defensive center in Al Horford, but that defense hasn’t translated yet this year and rebounding is playing a major factor. Against the Nets, the Celtics just got lazy when closing out the game but last night against the Bulls, Boston allowed an alarming 18 offensive rebounds. EIGHTEEN! To put that into perspective, the OKC Thunder averaged 13.1 offensive boards per game and that led the league by almost a full rebound. Granted, Al Horford’s minutes were somewhat limited throughout the game due to early foul trouble, meaning the Celtics had to lean on a combo of Amir Johnson, Tyler Zeller and Jonas Jerebko for most of the game, but 18 offensive rebounds is still unacceptable.
The Bulls efforts on the boards Thursday night caused Boston’s defensive rebounding percentage to plummet to 67.3 percent, 5.5 percent lower than the Houston Rockets last season who finished in dead last, grabbing 72.8 percent of the boards. The Celtics came into this season as the shortest team in the league, and just by looking at their guard-heavy roster, it’s clear that Brad Stevens intended on using small ball lineups early and often. They only lost Sullinger and Evan Turner from last year’s roster, so it’s not like they lost a ton of height; the Celtics are used to playing small under Stevens so they don’t get to use their height disadvantage as an excuse. Boston has played without Marcus Smart and Kelly Olynyk, but neither player is a superb rebounder, so the problem won’t be fixed simply by having them return to the court.
Rebounding needs to be a team effort and a priority moving forward. The Celtics can be the best defensive team in the league, but it’ll all be for nothing if they continue to allow easy second and third-chance opportunities. With a small team, the issue can’t fall squarely on the big men’s shoulders either. Horford, Johnson, Jerebko, and Zeller will already have their hand’s full with opposing team’s big men, so the Celtic’s guards need to help out and crash the defensive boards. Boston’s next opponent is the Charlotte Hornets, who snagged 51 rebounds in their opener, so things won’t get any easier for the C’s.