BOSTON — The Celtics may have escaped with a win over the Minnesota Timberwolves on their home floor, a 96-93 victory decided in the final seconds, but that didn't stop them from being astonished at the rebounding prowess of one Kevin Love.
"Man," said a bewildered Glen Davis after 48 minutes of chasing the Wolves' star power forward around. "He motivates me, man."
Love pulled down 24 rebounds, five of them offensive, for his NBA-best sixth game this season with 20-plus boards. He closed out seemingly every defensive possession for the Wolves from start to finish, enabling them to hang with the deeper, more experienced Celtics for most of the way. In fact, it wasn't until the final two minutes of the game that the C's pulled ahead with a flurry of clutch shots and seized control of the game.
The Celtics looked overmatched for a solid 46 minutes, and Love was the reason why.
"He just has a knack for the ball," said Davis, whose one total rebound was 23 fewer than Love. "A guy like that — his stature, the way he's built, the way he plays the game, his rebounding ability, I look forward to a lot of good matches with him. Just two undersized power forwards going at it. I'd really like to see a lot of good matches. I really look forward to playing him more."
"We know the scouting report on him coming in," Paul Pierce said. "But you know, everybody does. That just shows you the type of player he is — he gets it done night in and night out. It's all effort. He just tries to outwork everybody every night. I thought [lShaquille O'Neal] and Big Baby did a good job keeping him from getting 30 rebounds there in the second half."
In a strange sort of way, this was a statement win for the Celtics. They may have been at home, playing against a team whose record paled in comparison to theirs at 9-25, but they proved Monday night that they could persevere and win a game despite a matchup that attacked one of their greatest weaknesses — rebounding.
The Celtics were out-boarded by the Wolves in lopsided fashion on Monday night, 45-30. They entered the night with only 1,256 total rebounds this season, the second-lowest figure in the NBA. Their offensive rebounding rate — the percentage of their own missed shots that they've recovered this season — is dead last in the league at 20.9 percent.
Celtics coach Doc Rivers characterized Monday night as a "Lovefest," praising the Wolves' forward as "terrific" and "tenacious" on the glass. And he conceded that his team is now very aware of its shortcomings on the glass — he doesn't have to say a word to deliver that message.
"I don't think you have to tell guys," the coach said. "They know when they're not rebounding. Baby had one for the game. But in Baby's defense, we told him as much as you can, don't worry about rebounding, just worry about face-guarding Love and trying to take him off the glass. Unfortunately, he did that two or three times, and somebody else picked the ball up and laid it in.
"This is two nights in a row that we've had bad rebounding nights. It gives us something to work on."
Rivers knows his stuff. His Celtics were also out-rebounded 49-37 by the Raptors on Sunday night, and it's now clear that without Kevin Garnett, they have their work cut out for them to fix this problem.
The Celtics got a win Monday night, their second in as many nights, and they still sit one half-game ahead of the Miami Heat for first in the Eastern Conference, at 26-7. But that doesn't mean the C's are getting complacent.
On the contrary — they've found a leak in their game, and going forward, they'll have to work to plug it up. It took a visit from the NBA's best rebounder to drive that point home.