Attack of the glass eaters (Bill Sy): One of the Wizards’ strengths is getting out in transition with their speedster point guard John Wall. They’re fifth in the league in fast break points at 15.8, but like the Celtics, they’re one of the worst defensive rebounding teams in the NBA. Washington is 25th in rebounding percentage at 75.4% with Boston trailing just behind at 75.3%. The Celtics aren’t great on the offensive glass either; they rank 25th in OFFREB% at 21.2%.
Last night, they flipped the script.
#Celtics rebounds vs. Wizards:— Taylor C. Snow (@taylorcsnow) March 21, 2017
Nov. 9 – 31 reb (T-3rd-lowest of the season)
Jan. 24 – 32 reb (T-5th lowest)
Mar. 20 – 54 reb (T-highest)
They had 20 offensive rebounds and nearly doubled their offensive rebounding rate at 39.2%. Both Horford and Stevens pointed to Tyler Zeller as the spark on the glass as Boston grabbed 54 total rebounds, tying their season-high.
Players crashed the glass on ball handler pick-and-rolls, didn’t give up on plays and cleaned up botched layups, and stayed active on missed perimeter shots.
Heading down the home stretch, the Celtics have shored up their defense (tied for 10th for the season, 3rd since the All Star break), taken care of the ball (7th in turnovers), and after nights like last night, showed that they can collectively be better on the boards. Boston improved to 22-2 in games when they out-rebound their opponent and in an intense game in a now heated rivalry, they won the rebounding battle in the trenches. That’s definitely something to keep in mind if the Celtics go to war with the Wizards in a seven-game second round series.
Return of the D (Bobby Manning): The "hottest team in basketball" couldn't even muster 103 points against the Celtics defense on Monday night. The improvement was murky out of the break, but with another lockdown performance against one of the better teams in basketball it's become comprehensible that the C's can indeed be good at defense. They rank among the five best teams in opponent points per game since Isaiah Thomas represented the east in New Orleans and it's giving the team a far more credible vision of seeing themselves playing basketball into June.
Bradley Beal, averaging 23.1 points per game, was shuttered by the electric defense of Avery Bradley. John Wall was again held to a no-show in a trip to the TD Garden. Bitter chests connected three times between Terry Rozier and Brandon Jennings before technicals were handed out in the first half. The game had every making of both why this matchup needs to happen in the NBA playoffs this year, as well as why the C's and their new defensive poise should be considered the favorite in a seven game series.
Early cracks in the three-point defense eventually settled at a fantastic 22.8% stopping effort. Boston sealed up 81% of available rebounds on defense. They even forced 18 turnovers, including a crucial steal by Marcus Smart after bodying Bojan Bogdanovic in the post for the turnaround floater that sealed the game.
The Celts have had bigger wins, but all-in-all, this may have been their sturdiest performance all season long considering constant comparisons to Washington alongside questions of whether their recent defensive run is legitimate. Tonight'sperformance spoke for itself on both ends.
Snatching back victory (Keith P. Smith): The Wizards had cut the lead to six and were threatening to steal a win. Then Marcus Smart made a couple of those winnings plays we've become accustomed to seeing him make.He got the ball the in the mid-post area and drove right into the chest of Bojan Bogdanovic and finished over him to put Boston back up eight. Then Bogdanovic drove on Smart and in the flash of an eye, Smart stripped him and got fouled by Bradley Beal. He calmly drained both free throws and the lead was back to 10 and the game was effectively over.
The "Cobra Strike" style strip is something that we see a lot from Smart, but this one was a bit different. It combined two assets I've never seen in a player. It involved hands that are not only incredibly quick, which we see Smart flash often, but also ridiculously strong. Most fans don't realize just how hard it is to cleanly pull the ball away from a man who is 6'8'' and going to the basket at near full speed, while holding the ball with two hands. Smart made it look like a garden variety play.
I've never seen a guy who has hands that are both as quick and and strong as Smart's are. Either one? Sure. Both? Never. And those quick hands snatched victory back and just may have given the Celtics the second seed come playoff time.