WALTHAM (CBS) — The Celtics showed plenty of fight in their regular season opener against the Toronto Raptors. They just didn’t show enough on the defensive glass.
Spearheaded by newcomer Tyler Hansbrough, Toronto wreaked havoc against Boston’s frontline all night long, piling up 19 offensive rebounds and ultimately 28 second chance points. These extra opportunities proved to be the difference in the C’s 93-87 setback in the NBA debut of head coach Brad Stevens.
Boston’s rebounding problems should come as no surprise to this new-look squad for Celtics fans. After the departures of two of the team’s best rebounders in Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, Danny Ainge pieced together a mismatched roster this offseason that features only one true center: Vitor Faverani.
With just two players over 6-foot-9 on the entire team, rebounding will be an uphill battle most nights for the Celtics as they face off against a long list of formidable big men around the league this season. Some games, Boston simply may not be able to overcome the size discrepancy.
Wednesday night was not one of those occasions though, at least in the opinion of Stevens. Thursday at practice, the head coach did not play the size card in explaining Boston’s woes on the glass against the Raptors. There was a bigger element at hand, team-wide, the coach explained.
“Sometimes it’s a decision not to block a guy out, sometimes it’s the pursuit of the ball,” Stevens said. “The other 99 percent of the time, something broke down [defensively] before that, it caused us to over-rotate, over-help, leading to a last-minute decision which hurt us in our blocking out.”
One of the team’s perimeter players, Gerald Wallace, echoed those sentiments.
“It’s not the bigs. it’s the guards,” Wallace said. “The bigs do a pretty good job at controlling their man. Sometimes we are undersized, so it’s us guards that have to come down and help the bigs out. We have to take more responsibility in helping out the bigs on the boards.”
Thankfully, one form of relief is on the way for the Celtics on Friday night against the Bucks. Second-year forward Jared Sullinger will return from a one-game suspension and make his season debut in front of the TD Garden crowd.
Sullinger will be seeing his first action since undergoing back surgery last February. The power forward averaged 5.9 rebounds in just 19.8 minutes per game last season. In Stevens’ eyes, Sullinger’s return to the floor will be a major boost on Friday:
“[Jared] can rebound, he can shoot, he can pass, he can play, he’s got a nice IQ to him. And obviously he can get guys off the glass. That would have helped [Wednesday night],” Stevens said.
Sullinger, who had a team option picked up by Boston for the 2014-15 season on Thursday, is itching to help the Celtics out in his first NBA game in eight months.
“I was definitely cringing when I realized we weren’t getting a lot of rebounds we were supposed to get,” Sullinger explained. “Rebounding is my forte. It’s what I pride myself on.”
Although Sullinger’s return should help in the interior, the job gets no easier for Boston against the Bucks. Budding star Larry Sanders mans the middle for Milwaukee and has proven to be one of the best young rebounders in the entire league due to his length and athleticism.
What will be the key to containing Sanders and the Bucks on the boards?
“Stay on their body and try to limit their athleticism as much as possible. The more freedom you give him, the more he is a monster. As long as you stay on his body and limit his athleticism, you’ll have a chance to win the game,” Sullinger explained.
With so many new faces this year, Boston’s defense will continue to be a work in progress for the time being. One battle they can’t afford to lose however, is on the glass. Sullinger will have to lead the way to ensure that doesn’t happen.
Brian Robb covers the Celtics for CBSBoston.com and contributes to NBA.com, among other media outlets. You can follow him on Twitter @CelticsHub.