BOSTON – Remember when rebounding was a glaring weakness of the Boston Celtics? Well, that’s now a thing of the past.
Meet the 2017-18 version of the Celtics – a collective glass-cleaning machine.
Before getting into the good stuff, let’s rewind back to last season. As we all know, the 2016-17 C’s were the cream of the crop record-wise, as they finished atop the Eastern Conference standings.
However, one major deficiency that held them back was their inability to crash the boards. Boston spent most of the season ranked dead last in rebounding percentage. It finished with the league’s fourth-worst total rebounding rate (48.5 percent), as well as the fourth-worst defensive rebounding rate (75.3 percent).
Now, let’s fast-forward to this season. The Celtics are once again atop the Eastern Conference standings with a 6-2 record; only this time, rebounding has become one of their greatest strengths.
Boston entered Wednesday with the sixth-best rebounding percentage in the league (51.8 percent) and the fourth-best defensive rebounding rate (80.9 percent).
Then Wednesday night arrived and those percentages soared even higher. Boston doubled – yes, doubled – the Sacramento Kings in the rebounding department with a final tally of 52-26 during its 113-86 win at TD Garden.
Wednesday marked the fifth occasion this season that the Celtics have out-rebounded their opponent. They are 4-1 in those games, which included efforts against two top-10 rebounding teams – San Antonio and Philadelphia.
The largest rebounding deficit Boston has faced? Three. On Opening Night, the Cleveland Cavaliers held a 55-52 advantage on the boards. Other than that, no opponent has out-rebounded the Celtics by more than one.
So, what has changed from last year to this year, other than the obvious fact that there are 10 new faces on the team?
Jaylen Brown, who is one of four returnees from last season’s squad, provided some insight following Wednesday’s win.
“I think our guards are rebounding really well,” said Brown, who is averaging 5.9 rebounds per game from the starting shooting guard spot. “I think Terry (Rozier), playing more minutes than he was last year, rebounds at a high level. JT (Jayson Tatum) rebounds at a high level. Even Kyrie (Irving) rebounds at a high level. Those little rebounds that we get help us. So us being the guards, being so anxious to rebound, I think it helps the bigs get those little rebounds and not allow teams to get second-chance opportunities.”
The bigs are also coming up huge in the rebounding department. Starting frontcourt mates Aron Baynes and Al Horford have been forces on the glass. That shouldn’t come as a surprise from the pair of 30-year-old veterans, but what has been shocking is the output of rookie Daniel Theis.
The 25-year-old German big man has corralled 35 boards in just 102 minutes this season, including a game-high 10 rebounds Wednesday night in just 18 of action.
It was an impressive number for the 6-foot-9, 215-pounder, considering he had to battle the boards against much larger players like 7-foot, 265-pound center Kosta Koufos and 7-foot, 240-pound center Willie Cauley-Stein.
“That’s my job here,” Theis stated when asked of his rebounding prowess. “ I just want to play with energy and go for rebounds and offensive rebounds. With my long arms I tip a lot of balls and just try to get some extra shots for the team.”
Brad Stevens has been more than impressed with the rookie’s efforts, so he poured on plenty of praise following the game.
“He’s playing against big, strong guys, when you talk about Kostas and obviously Willie Cauley-Stein or (Zach) Randolph; the guys that can go above the rim and get balls and have been good rebounders for a long time,” said Stevens. “He just has a good motor to him. He’s always in good position. He never quits on plays. He’s got good balance and he’s awfully long, so even when he doesn’t get (the ball), he tips it and keeps it alive.
“He’s had a darn good first eight games.”
The Celtics, collectively, have had a darn good first eight games on the glass. They have length across the board, a strong, fearless starting frontcourt, guards who relentlessly crash the boards, and a rebounding machine off the bench in Theis.
It’s a big difference from the team that struggled mightily on the glass last season, and it’s helped carry them to six consecutive wins and the best record in the entire league.