By Brian Robb, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Stop me if you have heard this before: The Celtics are not a good rebounding team.
It’s been evident since the first game of the regular season that cleaning up the defensive glass would be an issue for the C’s, but the Green ended up saving their least inspiring rebounding performance of the year for Sunday night. In Boston’s 106-102 Game 1 loss to the Chicago Bulls, the visitors managed to grab 20 offensive rebounds, leading to 23 second chance points.
Starting center Robin Lopez led the way with eight offensive boards for Chicago, as seven of the nine active players in Fred Hoiberg’s rotation managed to grab at least one offensive rebound in the win.
“Obviously we knew that was an advantage of our going into the series,” Lopez explained after the game. “I think everybody did a great job of keying in on that aspect. We did a great job of gang rebounding, helping each other out crashing the boards.”
When all was said and done, the Celtics managed to grab a defensive rebound on just 54.5 percent of Chicago’s missed shot attempts, the worst percentage of the year in 83 games on the defensive glass.
The problem now for Brad Stevens is figuring out which adjustments he can make to improve an issue that has plagued his team all year. The C’s made strides in the second half of the season in this department (14th in defensive rebounding percentage), but it became clear Sunday night that the playoffs are a different animal, especially against a Chicago team with a size and athleticism advantage.
“They’ve been great against us all year,” Brad Stevens said after the loss about the Bulls’ effort on the glass. “I think you look out there at their size, so you’ve got to hit them early and don’t let them get into the paint on their cuts, when they’re cutting to the basket to get a rebound. Your contact has to be – you have to make hard initial contact on block-outs; you can’t just turn and look or get pushed under, because they’re going to get the ball. They’re bigger than we are. So we have to hit first. And so I’ll go back and look at it, chart it all, but that’ll be a big deal moving forward.”
There won’t be easy answers for Stevens after watching the tape though. On some plays, dribble penetrations forced bigs out of position for rebounds. On others, Boston turnovers led to fast break opportunities, opening the door for easy second chance opportunities for Chicago. Sometimes, the length advantage was just too much for the bigs to overcome as Kelly Olynyk and Amir Johnson repeatedly failed to corral Lopez or Bobby Portis.
The Bulls managed to stay in the game in spite of an ugly offensive first half (38 percent shooting, 2-of-14 from 3-point range) on the strength of their bigs (16 offensive rebounds by halftime). Half of those came from Lopez, making him priority No. 1 for the C’s moving forward.
“I think just awareness is a major key on it,” forward Jae Crowder said of Lopez. “We have to be more aware of where he’s at on the court and where their rebounders are. And I think once we have an awareness of where they are, we can take care of it. But I think it’s not just only on the bigs. It’s on the guards to come in and clean up. Those guys are in the trenches fighting, so us guards have to come help our bigs out the entire series.”
While Stevens wants to spread the floor with smaller lineups and sharpshooting bigs like Olynyk, he’s going to have to think long and hard about going with more size (Zeller) and better rebounders (Jerebko) for longer stints.
Ultimately, like most games, the Celtics are not going to win the rebounding battle in this matchup. They just don’t have the personnel to do it. Still, they can’t afford to be crushed like they were Sunday night if they want to win their first series under Brad Stevens, as Crowder bluntly explained.
“That’s the game. That’s the series. If we don’t rebound, we don’t win the series,” he said. “It’s simple.”
Brian Robb covers the Celtics for CBS Boston and contributes to NBA.com, among other media outlets. You can follow him on Twitter @CelticsHub.