BOSTON – Jimmy Butler took over down the stretch in leading the Chicago Bulls to a 106-102 Game 1 upset win over the Boston Celtics.
But his play wasn’t what won the game for the Bulls.
It was their rebounding which was once again a major problem for the Celtics who were out-rebounded 53-36.
The Bulls were particularly impressive on the offensive glass in which they grabbed 20 offensive boards which led to 23 second-chance points compared to 15 for the Celtics.
“That (was) something that (was) one of the keys for us going into Game 1, doing a good job of that. We didn’t,” said Al Horford. “I’m very eager to go back and look at the game and see what kind of things we can do better.”
Coach Brad Stevens has an idea.
“You look out there at their size, so you’ve got to hit them early and don’t let them get into the paint on their cuts, when they’re cutting to the basket to get a rebound,” Stevens said. “Your contact has to be … you have to make hard initial contact on the block-outs; you can’t just turn and look and get pushed under, because they’re going to get the ball.”
Despite being out-rebounded most of the season, the Celtics still managed to win more games than any team in the East.
What they lacked in rebounding, they were able to mask with above-average 3-point shooting and lots of trips to the free throw line.
In Game 1, Boston shot 36.8 percent (14-for-38) on 3’s and was 14-for-19 from the free throw line compared to the Bulls who were 20-for-23 from the free throw line.
While that’s not bad, getting clobbered as badly as they were on the boards can only be muffled by closing the rebounding gap or blowing the Bulls away in other areas of play – things that didn’t happen on any level Sunday night.
So the Celtics now find themselves down 1-0 in the best-of-seven series, home-court advantage no longer theirs.
And they find themselves trying to find a way to mask their greatest weakness – rebounding – against one of the better rebounding teams in the NBA.
That’s why it’s not a total shock that Boston got blasted on the boards when you consider the Bulls ranked fourth in the NBA in rebounding percentage (.517) this season while the Celtics consistently ranked among the league’s worst in just about every rebounding statistical category.
“Obviously, we knew that was an advantage of ours going into the series,” said Chicago’s Robin Lopez who had a double-double with 14 points and 11 rebounds which included eight on the offensive glass. “I think everybody did a great job of keying in on that aspect, we did a great job of gang rebounding, helping each other out crashing the boards.”
Meanwhile, the Celtics seemed to be a team filled with players on a rebounding island with no real connectivity to speak of.
We saw this play out all season, one in which the Celtics were ranked 27th in rebounding percentage (.485).
“That was the game,” said Jae Crowder. “That’s the game; that’s the series. If we don’t rebound, we don’t win the series. It’s simple.”
Stevens added, “They’re bigger than we are. So we have to hit first. And so I’ll go back and look at it, chart it all, but that’ll be a big deal moving forward.”