ATLANTA - When the Nuggets inserted little-used Kenneth Faried into the starting lineup Saturday night at Pepsi Center, coach George Karl realized the Celtics were the NBA’s worst rebounding team and had no one to match the vigor of Faried, who rose in last year’s draft because of his rebounding prowess at Morehead State.
Faried embarrassed the Celtics on the boards in Denver’s 98-91 win, nabbing a career-high 16 in just 24 minutes, leaving the Boston brass to ponder whether the team is capable of rebounding enough to win consistently. Faried outhustled his opponents, and while the Celtics’ help defense sometimes puts big men out of rebounding position, their desire and ability to bring down the ball has been questioned.
The Celtics’ slower, aging legs are being exposed by younger and more passionate rebounders. During Game 7 of the 2010 Finals it was rebounding that ruined a chance for the Celtics to win two titles in three years.
Faried’s performance was not lost on the Celtics’ veterans, who pondered whether poor rebounding will send the team to another premature playoff elimination.
“Where it starts is being out West, we’ve never seen Faried before,’’ guard Ray Allen said. “We’ve never seen [Sacramento’s] Isaiah Thomas [who scored 9 third-quarter points Friday] before. We’ve never seen a lot of these players that we’re playing on these teams before, so when we come into these games we have to do a better job of knowing personnel.
“Faried, if you watch the games leading up to this game, he’s a rebounder, he’s wild around the glass. We have to put a better emphasis on guarding him and keeping him from having an impact on the game. That’s something, in my opinion, we didn’t stress enough before the game. He was the difference-maker. We’ve got a lot of young players we haven’t seen before and we’re allowing them to have too much of an impact on the game.’’
When asked if individual players are not paying the proper attention to scouting reports, Allen said, “I think just as a team, if you come in and you have a great shooter on the floor, once he comes into the game, everybody says, ‘We got a shooter out there.’ You have to make sure you don’t leave him. You got a rebounder that is wild around the glass, you have to do the same thing. We have to make an emphasis to keep him off the glass.’’
Allen said the primary issue with rebounding is a lack of communication. While the Celtics talk loudly and consistently on defense, they don’t do so while rebounding. Brandon Bass drew the unenviable task of guarding Faried and sometimes appeared confused about whether to help on defense or follow Faried.
“Brandon’s got a tough matchup, and we’re like, ‘Brandon, you gotta do what you gotta do but you gotta keep him off the glass and let us come get the rebounds,’ ’’ Allen said. “Speak about that more. It’s almost like you’re seeing a criminal in a store stealing something, you’ve got to point it out. I go through it every day when I am on the floor and [defenders] make sure they don’t leave me and they talk out loud. Pointing it out, it keeps the team alert, and I think we need to do a better job of being alert, not only defensively but individual personnel.’’
Said forward Paul Pierce about rebounding, “It’s all about effort. It’s all about what’s in your chest, your heart. We’re lacking the depth, of course, not having Jermaine [O’Neal] and not having [Chris] Wilcox, but that’s just an excuse. We can get it done with the guys we have here. We just gotta do a better job in that department. If we can do that and clean up a couple of other things, I think we’ll be in good shape.’’
Kevin Garnett leads the Celtics in rebounds, but he is not the volume rebounder of his vintage days. The Celtics constantly allow opposing players to nab double-figure rebounds, such as Faried or Sacramento’s Jason Thompson, who pulled down 15 in 34 minutes Friday. The Clippers’ DeAndre Jordan grabbed 13 in 23 minutes March 12.
“We’re a help [defensive] team, and it’s gotta be effort, gotta be on the same page,’’ Garnett said. “Rebounding is effort. We do a lot of shifting. We do a lot of trapping, loading the key, defensive schemes and sometimes bigs are helping on [guards] and when that happens, it’s usually their big on the boards.’’
Garnett said rebounding issues are nothing new to the Big Three. Their defensive style, along with the lack of a volume rebounder on the roster, has led to these struggles.
“It’s one of the problems we’ve had since I’ve been here, since it was me and [Kendrick Perkins] and all the other guys I played with,’’ he said. “So it’s been something we have always paid some type of attention to, but at the same time we’ve been one of the top teams in the league as far as playing defense.
“Defense wins games, and also rebounding, and we’ve got to figure out the median because we’re getting [killed] on the boards these last couple of games, playing against these fast, younger, speed, up-and-down type of teams. If we can get some rebounds, we can actually win some of these games.’’Gary Washburn can be reached at email@example.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @gwashNBAGlobe.