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Key for Celtics in Game 2 is better glass work

Cavs too strong off boards in Game 1

LeBron James (23) and the Cavaliers had a big edge in offensive rebounds in Game 1 Sunday.Jim Davis/The Boston Globe/Globe Staff

CLEVELAND — The Celtics do not believe that any team can play a perfect game. But it remains to be seen how imperfect they can be and still grab a win against the Cavaliers in this opening-round NBA playoff series.

In Game 1 on Sunday, the Cavaliers were very good but not exceptional, and the Celtics were not great but they also were not bad, and they still lost, 113-100, and never felt like a major threat.

Yes, Kyrie Irving hit some impossible 3-pointers while being smothered. Yes, LeBron James made some preternatural drives through traffic. But the Celtics have become accustomed to those outcomes, and while they would like to do better, they know that superstars will be superstars. A key, they said, is making progress elsewhere.


“All you can do is tip your hat to someone making shots like that, but there’s a lot of other things we can improve on that could still give us a chance to win a game,” Celtics guard Avery Bradley said. “Even if Kyrie scores 48 points, it doesn’t matter how many points he scores. We still have a chance to correct a lot of things.”

The Celtics said the most obvious thing they must correct is their rebounding. The challenge is that this shortfall is often related to problems caused by Irving, James, and, to a lesser extent, Kevin Love. If you plug one leak, another one sprouts.

In Game 1, aside from the fact the James, Irving, and Love combined for 69 points — 7 above their season average — the Celtics were undone by their inability to collect defensive rebounds.

Cleveland’s offensive rebounding percentage was 35.7 percent. That means that more than one out of every three times there was a chance for the Cavaliers to gather one of their missed shots, they did. To put that figure in perspective, the Utah Jazz led the NBA in offensive rebounding percentage this season at 29.1 percent.


“You can’t give great players like that more than one chance at the rim on each possession,” Celtics guard Evan Turner said of the Cavaliers.

The Cavaliers had 15 offensive rebounds in all — more than double the Celtics’ total of seven. Boston does not have a prototypical, rim-protecting big man who can gobble up missed shots like they are chocolate-chip cookies. But that truth is not going to change during this series.

So for now, they will call upon their guards to crash for rebounds when big men close in on a ball-handler, and they will attempt to be more aware of mismatches that develop when players switch defensively.

“Sometimes it’s a matter of you can do things [better] technically,” said Celtics coach Brad Stevens. “Sometimes it’s a matter of them versus you. You’ve got to do things technically as much as you can, because they’re going to win some of the them-versus-you matchups.”

The Celtics’ quandary can best be summed up by one possession with five minutes left in the second quarter Sunday. James received a pass a few feet inside the left arc with his back to the basket. Center Tyler Zeller immediately flashed over to force a double team with Turner.

James, who is extremely skilled at passing out of congested situations, fired a crosscourt bullet to Irving, who swung a pass to J.R. Smith near the top of the key. Smith had an open shot at the foul line, but instead found James, who dribbled with his back to the hoop as the shot clock wound down. Zeller made the right play by coming over for the double team, forcing James into a difficult fadeaway that missed. The play was a success for the Celtics, until it ended.


Burly Cavaliers forward Tristan Thompson had established position in the post after Zeller vacated, and the 6-foot-2-inch Bradley was unable to stop him from grabbing a rebound and dunking. Even though the defense on James was excellent, the final result was still frustrating for the Celtics.

So how can they stop that? How can they change that outcome if James will always require extra attention and Cleveland’s big men will always be bigger than Boston’s little men?

“We have to play harder than those guys,” Bradley said. “It’s that simple.”

Adam Himmelsbach can be reached at adam.himmelsbach@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @adamhimmelsbach.