Kevin Garnett, Celtics’ Big Men Should Not Shoulder All Blame for Rebounding, Defensive Struggles

BOSTON — Size and rebounding seem to go together naturally. Taller people are closer to the rim, so when the basketball clanks off the iron, those people would figure to have the best chance at grabbing the errant shot.

It is not always that simple, of course. Otherwise, relatively undersized frontcourt players like Elvin Hayes, Wes Unseld, Dave Cowens and Charles Barkley would not be among the greatest rebounders ever. But in the minds of most fans, rebounding will always be associated with big men, and when a team fails as flatly on the glass as the Celtics did Wednesday, the focus will inevitably fall on the guys in the plus-size uniforms.

Yet there was more to Boston’s anemic production on the glass in the team’s 112-100 loss to the Spurs than just a lack of effort from Kevin Garnett and the front line. Not even the Spurs’ 58 points in the paint can be entirely laid on the Celtics’ big men, either. The problems ran deeper than that, and those statistics just happened to be where the issues manifested.

“I think it’s easy to say, ‘the bigs, the bigs,’” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said after his team was out-rebounded 41-25 and did not record an offensive rebound until the final 88 seconds of the game. “It wasn’t the bigs. It was, but it wasn’t as well.”

In other words, Garnett was not the guy playing matador defense on Tony Parker, the 6-foot-2 point guard who led all scorers with 26 points. Brandon Bass was not the only player neglecting to deny corner 3-pointers by Danny Green, Gary Neal and Boris Diaw. Tim Duncan‘s 20 points and Tiago Splitter‘s 23 points fall more squarely on Boston’s big bodies, but even then, those scoring opportunities often were opened up when a Celtics big man had to help his smaller teammate, who had given up dribble penetration to one of the Spurs’ guards.

Paul Pierce assumed some blame for himself, noting that he did not get a single rebound in 36 minutes. Duncan grabbed 15 boards, but nobody else had double-digit rebounds in a game that saw both teams shoot better than 53 percent from the floor. There was not a great deal of rebounds to be had, although Jared Sullinger managed to find seven in 20 minutes of action.

“I know you sit back and you watch the games, and you see that we’re getting beat” on the glass, Garnett said. “What you don’t see is that we do a lot of helping. Our bigs do a lot to help our guards out. We strategically have different schemes that we throw at teams night-in, night-out, and then you hear that offensive rebounding is one of our flaws. It is what it is, but we’re a help team. That is what we are, and I don’t think Doc’s going to change that.”

The best indicator that size is not everything in rebounding or post scoring is the Denver Nuggets. The Nuggets score more baskets at the rim than any other team, despite not having a true post scorer. They do most of their offensive damage off dribble drives by Ty Lawson and Andre Iguodala or off Andre Miller creating layups for teammates like athletic center JaVale McGee. Meanwhile, the Nuggets are the league’s best rebounding team even though they give major minutes to Danilo Gallinari, a 6-foot-10 power forward who will never be mistaken for Dennis Rodman, and Kenneth Faried, an undersized 6-foot-8 forward who gobbles rebounds on pure hustle.

To be sure, Garnett was not entirely absolved of guilt in Wednesday’s loss. Had he managed more than three rebounds and gotten out on Duncan a bit more quickly, many of those momentum-building plays for the Spurs in the third quarter might never have come off. Getting only one offensive rebound in a game is one thing, but on defensive rebounds alone, the Celtics were outdone 35-25 on Wednesday. They are now the 10th-worst team in the NBA on the defensive glass. The big guys will always receive an undue portion of blame — or credit — with a disparity that large.

Everybody in a white jersey was saddled with a loss against the Spurs, though, not only the players 6-foot-8 or taller. The “L” is applied in the standings to the entire team, and for the Celtics on Wednesday, losing was a total team effort.

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