BOSTON — Many teams give the Celtics fits on the glass, but one opponent that provides them more trouble than most is the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Rebounding is an area where the C’s must improve if they are to give the defending NBA champions a tough test in the Eastern Conference finals, which begin Wednesday night at TD Garden.
What makes the Cavs such a tough team to beat on the boards? Celtics coach Brad Stevens gave a detailed explanation in his pregame press conference Wednesday.
It has a lot to do with how Cleveland’s offense takes teams out of good rebounding position with its abundance of shooters on the perimeter and pick-and-roll sets.
“(Kevin) Love and (Tristan) Thompson are great offensive rebounders first and foremost,” Stevens said. “Those other guys all will go at different times. They won’t go all the time to the offensive glass.
“The bottom line against Cleveland, in my opinion, is that when they get in transition and you’re scrambling all over the place, or if you get scrambling all over the place in pick-and-rolls, you’re toast. Because they just find the right shooters. LeBron (James) has the ball, he’s the center of it all.
“You could guard for the first 16 seconds really well, but the next extra pass is to a guy who shoots 75 percent of his shots from three. Then you’re flying all over the place and in terrible position to rebound. And then, if they get (the offensive rebound), then you have to fly out to find those guys again because they’re looking to kick out for another three. It’s a really tough matchup, it’s really tough to guard. They’re great at a lot of things.
“One of the reasons they’re great at rebounding is their effort, Love and Thompson, specifically. Their effort to the glass is great, but they’re also working against a scrambling defense a lot.”
Boston has a minus-7.2 rebound differential through 13 postseason games — the worst mark among the 16 playoff teams. The Cavs are plus-2.6 in the playoffs, and they held a 180-153 edge in rebounds over their four regular-season meetings with the Celtics.
Stevens singled out Love and Thompson, individually, and with good reason. Love averaged 13 rebounds and Thompson 12 in three regular-season matchups with the Celtics.
The Celtics must box out and send multiple guys to the glass at both ends of the floor to prevent the Cavaliers from creating second-chance and transition opportunities. That means sending multiple guys to the boards on each possession.
The Celtics don’t have as much talent as the Cavs, so they must win the small battles and make the effort plays to give themselves a chance. Rebounding is at the top of that list.
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