Defensive rebounding has been a nemesis for the small-ball Celtics throughout the Brad Stevens era. The team knowingly sacrifices size down low for the sake of defensive versatility, a move that has proved to be a net positive for the team in the long run.
Still, on a night when bruiser Aron Baynes (sore hamstring) watched from the sidelines, rebounding looked like the reason why Boston would lose to Oklahoma City in the first half of Thursday's game. The Celtics did not shoot much worse than the Thunder in a horrific opening 24 minutes (both teams were under 40 percent from the field), yet it was the Thunder that led by 16 at the half after hitting the 50-point mark. How did they build a 16-point lead? Twelve offensive rebounds and 14 second-chance points had a lot to do with it. The Celtics had just four second-chance points despite an avalanche of misses.
The Thunder have been the worst NBA offense through five games, but they're also the best offensive rebounding team in the league. That setup makes second-chance points one of their only reliable sources of scoring, which proved true in the first half against the Celtics. They grabbed an offensive rebound on nearly every other miss in the first half (43 percent offensive rebounding rate) as the C’s struggled to keep Steven Adams and other athletic pieces like Nerlens Noel, Jerami Grant and Paul George off the glass. The C’s defense was stellar as a whole, yet it didn’t show up in the score sheet due to those rebounding woes.
So how did Boston come back to win this game? A 40-point third quarter will get the headlines, but that outburst ultimately didn’t stop the C’s from falling behind by nine points midway through the fourth quarter and shooting 27 percent from the field in that frame. Instead, it was Boston’s defense and rebounding that locked down the Thunder in crunch time, forcing Oklahoma City into 10 straight misses over the final four minutes of the game. While the Thunder shot just 39 percent in the second half (same as the first half), their second-chance opportunities also disappeared after intermission. The hosts grabbed just four offensive rebounds on 26 missed shots, resulting in just three second-chance points.
How did the Celtics clean up on the glass despite staying small for the entire second half against the best offensive rebounding team in the league? Some unlikely sources came to the rescue in what could be some encouraging progress for the long run.