Celtics lose battle of the boards

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Celtics lose battle of the boards

BOSTON When the Boston Celtics return to the court next week, they will look to rebound - literally - from a disappointing 87-74 loss to the Indiana Pacers.

It was a game in which the C's struggled mightily in every imaginable phase of the game, which included them tying a franchise-low with 25 points in the first half.

But it was their inability to keep the Pacers (5-2) off the offensive boards that, maybe more than anything else, led to their four-game winning streak coming to an end.

Indiana enjoyed a 47-36 rebounding advantage which factored heavily into their 19-5 advantage in second-chance points.

"There were a lot of shots being missed by both teams," said Celtics head coach Doc Rivers. "That means there's going to be a lot of offensive rebound opportunities. The difference was they had seven more (offensive rebounds) than us when you get straight down to it."

Kevin Garnett played nearly 34 minutes, and finished with six rebounds - zero on the offensive boards.

"It's always on the bigs to rebound, obviously," Garnett said. "It starts with the bigs, myself included. We have to do a better job, I know I have to."

And while the Boston big men certainly were a factor in the team's rebounding woes, the C's guards played a prominent role as well.

Indiana's dribble penetration forced Boston's big men to help out defensively. Once the Pacers put up shots, the Celtics guard didn't do a good job of putting a body on Indiana's big men, which allowed them to get several second and third-shot opportunities.

Rajon Rondo had five rebounds - that was more than any other Celtics guard - but he too acknowledged that the C's guards had to do a better job of helping out on the boards.

"It's not on the bigs; it's all five of us out there," Rondo said. "We didn't do a good job boxing out. Guards getting beat off the dribble; our bigs were stepping up. And when they shot the ball, our bigs were off their bodies. It's no excuses. We just played really bad tonight; it showed."

WATCH: Celtics vs. Cavs

WATCH: Celtics vs. Cavs

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Celtics-Cavs preview: Something to prove against the best in East

Celtics-Cavs preview: Something to prove against the best in East

BOSTON – Brad Stevens has said on more than one occasion that the Boston Celtics’ record (38-22) is a bit better than their actual play.

While it may come across as exaggerated humility on Stevens’ part, the coach makes a very good point.

Despite Boston having the second-best record in the Eastern Conference, they have struggled mightily this season against the top-four teams in the East outside of themselves.

Boston will have a chance to rewrite at least one chapter in that narrative tonight when they host the defending NBA champion Cleveland Cavaliers.

Against the top-four teams in the East (Cleveland, Washington, Toronto and Atlanta), the Celtics are just 3-8 which falls short of how those teams have fared against one another this season.

The Cavs are 7-1 against the East’s top-4 clubs with the lone loss at Atlanta in November. Toronto (5-5) and Atlanta (4-4) have a .500 records against the top-4 while Washington (4-5) is just a game below-.500.

That’s why tonight’s game against Cleveland is so important to Boston.

It’s not just about beating the best team in the East.

For them, it’s about beating a good team, the kind of team that they have to get past in the postseason if they are to make the kind of deep playoff run that so many of the players have their sights set on.

Coming off of a 114-98 home loss to Atlanta, the Celtics know they have to play better – a lot better – to avoid losing a second game in a row, and four of their last five.

“They’re a good team,” said Boston’s Jaylen Brown. “If we’re not locked in, they’ll beat us worse than the Hawks. So we have to come out, execute, play harder, feed off the crowd and do our job. We should be victorious.”

That’s easier said than done, especially when you’re talking about a Cleveland team that’s truly built for the postseason.

That said, the Cavs are about as vulnerable to defeat now as they will be anytime this season.

All-Star forward Kevin Love is out until late March following “minor” surgery on his left knee.

“There’s definitely enough time to where I can get into a good rhythm,” Love told reporters earlier this week.

In addition to Love, the Cavs are also without J.R. Smith who underwent right thumb surgery in December that’s expected to keep him out until at least the middle of March.

Said Love, “I imagine between J.R. and myself, we’ll get out there and get our wind and be ready to go for (the playoffs) in April.”

Even without Love and Smith, Cleveland has plenty of firepower to remain the team to beat in the East.

It all starts with LeBron James who is averaging 25.7 points, 7.9 rebounds and a career-high 8.9 assists per game while shooting 54.1 percent from the field.

And then there’s Kyrie Irving who continues to play at a level which puts him among the best guards in the NBA. He’s averaging a career-high 24.6 points while dishing out 6.0 assists to go with 3.3 rebounds.

Tristan Thompson. Iman Shumpert. New guys Derrick Williams and Deron Williams.

Go down the line and it’s clear that the Cavs have elite talent and depth to which beating them, regardless of who may be missing in action, will not be easy.

Meanwhile, the Celtics have to simply do what they do best … only better.

“It’s going to be a tough one,” said Boston’s Isaiah Thomas. “We’ve got to make shots.”