CLEVELAND – The Boston Celtics aren’t looking to fight fire with fire when they take on the Cavs tonight in Cleveland. Instead, they’ll fight fire with ice.
Cleveland has long been one of the most dangerous offensive rebounding teams in the league, thanks to Tristan Thompson and Kevin Love being on its roster. Thompson has averaged 3.4 offensive rebounds per game for his career, while Love has averaged 2.9. The Celtics, meanwhile, have only one elite rebounder on their team in Enes Kanter, and he is listed as doubtful for tonight’s game with a left knee contusion.
With that fact in mind, Boston won’t attempt to bully the Cavs on the glass tonight. That would be a futile effort. Instead, it will look to dominate other areas of the game to win the battle for the majority of the game’s possessions.
“You have to have appropriate ball pressure, where hopefully you can turn some people over,” Brad Stevens said of such a game plan at Tuesday morning’s shootaround. “You have to take care of the ball yourself. We’ve put a huge priority on lack of turnovers offensively and turning people over, because we know that we’re small. You know that if you don’t do that you’re going to open up opportunities to get beat because you just won’t have enough possessions.”
Boston has been successful in these areas so far this season. It is by far the leader in the NBA when it comes to taking care of the ball, as the team has committed an average of only 11.6 turnovers per game; the next-best average is 13.3 by the Chicago Bulls. The C’s also rank eighth in the league in forced turnovers with an average of 18.4 per game.
Boston’s low turnover rate helped it overcome 16 offensive rebounds by New York during a 104-102 win Friday night. The C’s committed only 14 turnovers and found other ways – like making 27 free throws – to overcome a 13-rebound deficit on the offensive glass.
Tonight, the C’s will attempt to do more of the same against Cleveland. They will aim to take care of the ball, to force turnovers, and to again get to the line at a high rate to nullify Cleveland’s advantage along the frontline.
That doesn’t mean that Boston’s big men won’t do everything they can to keep Thompson, Love and Larry Nance Jr. off the glass. They will, in an attempt to keep the C’s as close to even with the Cavs in the rebounding department as possible.
Center Rob Williams is one of Boston’s big men who will play a role in the rebounding war. Williams said Tuesday morning that he won’t necessarily be trying to grab a bunch of rebounds tonight, and will instead concentrate on preventing Thompson, Love and Nance Jr. from grabbing them.
“I feel like for everybody on the team, especially boxing out a guy like Tristan Thompson, 90 percent of the time you won’t get the ball,” the second-year center acknowledged. “Just focus on the box out. Let a guard come over the top and clean it up. Or let another big try to clean it up. But focus on the box-out first.”
That is the task at hand for Boston’s big men. The task at hand for everyone else on the roster is to take care of the ball, and to apply a level of ball pressure that prevents the Cavs from doing the same.
This is how the Celtics will live this season. They know that they don’t have a ton of size and physicality in their frontcourt rotation. Therefore, they won’t try to fight fire with fire.
They’ll instead fight fire with ice. So far this season, that approach has worked.
addByline("Marc D'Amico", "Celtics.com", "Marc_DAmico");