There’s so much to like about the Boston Celtics. Isaiah Thomas has blossomed into the best little-guy scorer since Allen Iverson. Brad Stevens is one of the best coaches in the NBA. Boston is stacked with tenacious perimeter defenders, and most of its lineups consist of five guys who are threats from three-point range. That, along with Thomas, makes them extremely hard to guard.
But they’re also the second-worst defensive rebounding team in the league (only the New York Knicks have a worse defensive rebound percentage), and while rebounding certainly isn’t the primary statistic that differentiates a good team from a bad one, it would be ideal to at least be respectable on the glass. We’ll leave the Jimmy Butler elbow tap foul discussion to the debate shows, but once again, Boston got killed on the glass Thursday night in a 104-103 loss to the Chicago Bulls. The Bulls outrebounded the Celtics 51-31, and had Boston narrowed that deficit to, say, 15 instead of 20, it would have won the game:
The Bulls are now 2-1 against the Celtics on the season; in the two wins, Chicago has outrebounded Boston 106-67 and still only won the games by a combined seven points. The Bulls, despite all of their other problems, are an excellent rebounding team — Chicago is second in offensive rebound percentage — so the fact that Fred Hoiberg’s squad gives the Celtics problems isn’t shocking.
Nobody is saying the Bulls would beat the Celtics in a seven-game series (though it may be a more interesting first-round matchup than you’d think, given the stark style contrasts). But could Boston’s rebounding issues come back to haunt them against a Cleveland, Toronto or Washington? Let’s take a look.
20th in total rebounding
13th in offensive rebounding
All eyes would be on the perimeter matchup in a Celtics vs. Wizards playoff series, and rightfully so. The John Wall-Bradley Beal-Otto Porter trio is humming, and there would be no convenient defensive hiding spot for Thomas in this matchup. That would likely be Stevens’ primary concern here.
But so would Marcin Gortat, who is averaging 11.4 rebounds per game and is a relentless brute on the glass. The best back-tapper in the league not named Tyson Chandler, Gortat does the dirty work inside for Washington — frankly, he’s precisely the type of player the Celtics would love to have. The Wizards may not emphasize the offensive glass like the Bulls do, but Al Horford and company would be tested against Gortat. Based on the bad Thomas matchup and more potential rebounding woes, on paper, this doesn’t look ideal for the Celtics.
23rd in total rebounding
9th in offensive rebounding
The Raptors are right there with the Celtics with their defensive rebounding issues, but they crash the glass on offense — it’s part of the reason why their offense is so lethal and their defense is suspect. The Serge Ibaka acquisition will do many things for Toronto, but it won’t solve the defensive rebounding problems.
Jonas Valanciunas could present issues for the Celtics’ front line, as he’s the main reason why Toronto is in the top 10 of collecting its own clanks. But could JV stay on the floor against the Celtics’ five-out attack, when Dwane Casey could just as easily use Ibaka and Patrick Patterson on the front line and be able to switch most screens? The answer: probably not. This series would be a coin flip, but rebounding on either side probably wouldn’t be the deciding factor based on matchups.
10th in total rebounding
16th in offensive rebounding
Tristan Thompson is the prototype of someone who gives the Celtics problems — a relentless offensive rebounder that, unlike Valanciunas, can stay on the floor against Boston’s stretchy lineups. Horford specifically has had issues against Thompson going back to his team with the Atlanta Hawks.
Kevin Love is in the same mold, though Boston’s offense is reaching the point that Love could become a liability defensively against the C’s.
The Celtics’ lack of rebounding likely wouldn’t be the primary reason why they lose to the Cavaliers — Cleveland has LeBron James and Kyrie Irving, so that’s a bigger problem. But it certainly wouldn’t help matters.
Boston’s rebounding troubles are concerning through the 2016-17 lens. But zoom out, and it’s not some grand plague that will hold the franchise back for years. The Celtics are ahead of schedule and have a ton of assets waiting in the wings; it’s also not as if bigs who can rebound are that hard to find. They’ll fix the issue, it’s just a matter of when.
But, unless a trade is coming, it won’t be this season. Boston fans can (perhaps rightfully) complain that a bad call cost them a game going into the All-Star break, but getting outrebounded by 20 on the road is a recipe for disaster.