Boston Celtics In Dire Need of Big Man Help

After being dominated on the glass by Raptors center Jonas Valanciunas in a 114-106 loss to Toronto, the Celtics’ necessity for a big man has been amplified.

The Boston Celtics entered Tuesday night’s tilt with the Atlantic Division-leading Toronto Raptors aware that this game would be considered a measuring stick for their ability to leapfrog their counterparts north of the border in the standings in the coming months.

Undeniably, the contest underlined exactly where the Celtics stand as of now, as the Raptors rattled off a 34-22 fourth quarter to knock off their foes in green, 114-106. DeMar DeRozan dominated each defender that Boston placed on him, abusing the Celtics efforts in the process of garnering 41 points, 13 rebounds, and a game-high +19 plus/minus rating. In the meantime, the NBA’s most prolific fourth-quarter scoring offense faltered down the stretch, falling monumentally short of their average of 29.2 points in the final 12 minutes of the game while appearing lackluster in body language.

Despite the fact that you could chalk up the Celtics inability to score in the fourth quarter to be a fluke, there was one area that Toronto commanded that Boston will be unable to improve upon with their current roster. The Raptors monopolized the rebounding battle, recording 50 rebounds compared with the Celtics measly 33. Boston allowed a stunning 17 offensive rebounds while grabbing just half a dozen of their own. 11 of these offensive rebounds alone went to Raptors center Jonas Valanciunas, who boosted himself into the top 15 in the league in rebounds per game with 23 boards.

While the statistics were telling, it was the Celtics effort on the defensive glass that was the most frightening. Both Al Horford (nine rebounds in 35 minutes) and Kelly Olynyk (four rebounds in 25 minutes) were consistently bullied on the glass by Valanciunas. Each time a Raptors shot attempt went up, Valanciunas appeared to defeat the competition for body position down low, setting himself up for an offensive rebound each time. There were multiple occasions where Olynyk appeared to give up on the opportunity to grab a rebound, allowing Valanciunas and DeRozan to swoop in for gift-wrapped rebounds. Additionally, Horford proved himself incapable of boxing out Valanciunas on free throws. Each time a foul shot was attempted, Horford would find himself smushed below the rim, completely out of position and Valanciunas created a lane for himself to swipe the board off of the glass.

The Celtics’ defensive presence was measurable, as they forced 18 turnovers paced by four steals by point guard Marcus Smart. However, this effort was cloaked by Toronto accumulating 38.4 percent of available offensive rebounds, a figure that rose to 46 percent when Horford’s presence graced the floor. This punctuates the theme that we have witnessed throughout the season. The Celtics’ rebounding differential of -4.4 ranks 28th in the NBA, and their average of 31.7 defensive rebounds per game is the 26th-best mark in the league. What makes Tuesday night’s performance on the glass all the more troubling is that Toronto is one of the NBA’s weaker rebounding teams. The Raptors’ -0.9 rebounding differential places them in the bottom third of the league in that category, yet they still reigned over the Celtics on the boards resoundingly in their victory.

This game accentuates the fact that Boston cannot rely on Horford to carry the squad rebounding-wise. Horford’s total rebounding percentage of 11.5 percent is the worst mark of his career, and his defensive rebounding rate of 17.8 percent is his lowest since 2011-12. Per 36 minutes, Horford’s rebounding average of 7.4 is by far the bottom mark of his career. At 245 pounds and lacking impressive vertical leaping ability, Horford does not have the capacity to box out someone like Valanciunas, Thompson of the Cavaliers, or Howard of the Hawks. While many could argue that the injury Johnson appeared to suffer against Toronto hampered their rebounding efforts, the fact of the matter is that Johnson is not much help in this department either. His defensive rebounding percentage of 15.3 percent is his worst since 2005-06, Johnson’s rookie season in which he played 39 minutes. In addition, Johnson is posting just 7.9 rebounds per 36 minutes, far below 2015-16’s average of 10.1.

If Boston wishes to match their objective of catapulting themselves above Toronto as the season progresses while acquiring the ability to defeat the Raptors in a seven-game playoff series, general manager Danny Ainge must add a rebounding big man to the rotation. Despite the Celtics’ impressive guard play as of late, it will take the acquisition of a center such as Andrew Bogut of the Mavericks or Nerlens Noel of the 76ers to shore up Boston’s rebounding woes and make them a contender to reach the Eastern Conference Finals this spring.

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