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Celtics thriving even through inefficient offense

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On Friday the Celtics shot 36% against the Hornets with no Kyrie Irving or Al Horford. Sunday, still down Irving, they shot 40%. The win streak is going strong at 12 but with Warriors looming on Thursday how much does it matter?

NBA: Toronto Raptors at Boston Celtics Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Basketball is handing the Celtics minimal breaks this season. Brad Stevens built a system around Gordon Hayward that came crashing down six minutes into the season.

Then Kyrie Irving played out-of-control in the next night’s fourth quarter vs. Milwaukee, and the team started 0-2. Al Horford concussion, Jayson Tatum’s scary halftime ankle ailment against the Lakers and an incidental blow to Irving’s face courtesy of Aron Baynes. None of it has stopped this team.

Sunday’s 12th straight win was completely wild, another inefficient showing in a toe-for-toe battle with the Raptors, a team that has had Boston’s number (Toronto defeated the Celts in six of the last eight coming in). Demar DeRozan needed another inch on his fadeaway shot at the buzzer to win and own the C’s again, but he didn’t get it.

That was DeRozan’s second chance after an impromptu offensive foul call on Tatum seconds after his seemingly game-sealing rebound. One of the better scorers in the NBA got two chances to down a short-handed Celts squad and couldn’t. If he did, most fans probably would’ve shrugged their shoulders and said, “it was coming.”

Jeff was ready for it before the game even began.

But again, Boston adapted to the circumstances, winning in their own end. They’ve been flexible, winning possessions rather than out-shooting their opponents.

In this era, where offensive efficiency reigns supreme, the best team in the league through 14 contests is bottom six in average scoring. The Celtics’ offense is a relative mess right now, but they’re gutting out win after win.

Marcus Smart posted a +11 against Toronto shooting 3-of-10. Jaylen Brown was 3-of-14 in the comeback win over Charlotte, yet a dominant +9. The two are shooting 29 and 43 percent respectively, and are top three in +/- on the team at 91 and 106.

This may sound like statistical soup, and some of it is considering the small sample of games early in the season, but it’s getting larger and the baffling math equation that has been the Celtics is becoming easier to solve. They are flat-out dominating possessions.

The league’s average rebounding percentage this year is 50.35 percent and the Celtics are nearly three points above it (53.1). Boston reaches 47.6 percent between Horford (14.8), Baynes (15.9) and Daniel Theis (16.9) alone.

Add in Terry Rozier, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart and Jayson Tatum all above 10 percent and the Celts soar past the league average in team rebounding percentage. Boston is out-rebounding opponents by more than five per game.

Even in the Lakers loss, a 48-48 split on the boards, Boston hauled in four extra offensive rebounds mostly in the form of put-backs that became a decisive advantage in the game. The C’s have won 10 rebounding battles over the last 12 games and are 10-3-1 on the season.

That rebounding dominance only reinforces what has been the stingiest defense in the league. Boston, characterized by a fixation on spacing and pacing, is winning games on rock-solid interior play and personnel that can guard multiple positions on the perimeter.

As a whole, Boston’s defensive rating is in a league of its own. They’ve only scored 110 points three times this season but they’ve won 12 games.

So, with a historically transcendent offense visiting Boston on Thursday (hint: it’s the Warriors), can this continue to be the formula? Can Irving keep focusing on playing within the flow of the offense and shooting 44 percent?

It’s tough to imagine it, specifically for the Warriors game.

Three teams have beaten Golden State this year. One, the Rockets, watched as Kevin Durant’s game-winner left his fingertips milliseconds late.

The Grizzlies and Pistons won more convincingly, both holding the Warriors under 110 but scoring more than 110 themselves. That’s a balance Boston has to find beyond gritting and grinding defensively each night.

Stevens has spoken about it too.

“Our offense, we leave way too many points on the board,” he said after Boston’s eighth straight win in the streak over Orlando.

Irving returns tonight against the Nets, providing a sliver of hope, but a group that is still thriving is still looking for an identity on offense.