NEWARK, N.J. Make no mistake about it, Boston Celtics forward Brandon Bass has heard the chatter about the team's struggles to rebound the ball. He doesn't dispute that this season, it has indeed been an issue for the Celtics.
But it is an issue that lately, hasn't been as big a deal with the team showing significant improvement and maybe just as important, consistent play, in its board work.
Saturday's 94-82 win at New Jersey was yet another strong night for the Celtics on the boards, as they out-rebounded the Nets, 51-42.
The Celtics have been at or near the bottom of the rebounding charts all season. But in the last 10 games - the C's have won seven of those games - Boston ranks 15th in the NBA in rebounds per game. Making Saturday's performance even more impressive was that the Nets came into the game ranked 12th rebounding in the last 10 games.
"Doc (Rivers) has told us time after time that we need to be better rebounders and we hear it from the media that we're struggling and you know that's something that, you know, we want to be a championship team," Bass said. "To win a championship, you have to defend and rebound."
Rebounding was important in Saturday's win and it will be integral to the Celtics' success moving forward. Here we'll re-examine some of the keys in tonight's game pointed out earlier, to see how they actually played out as Boston defeated New Jersey 94-82 after a disappointing loss at Toronto on Friday night.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR Boston's scoring defense has been solid as a rock, win or lose. It will be put to the test tonight against a New Jersey team that's showing signs of improvement in every area, notably scoring. They have a 6-4 record in their last 10 games, which has been fueled in part by their improved scoring. Although they rank No. 22 on the season in scoring, they're actually up to No. 13 over the last 10 games. Meanwhile the Celtics have the No. 3 scoring defense (89.5 points) this season, but have given up a league-low 84.1 points per game over the course of the last 10.
WHAT WE SAW: Boston's defense really turned up the pressure in the second half, limiting New Jersey to just 34 second-half points on 11-for-47 (23.4 percent) shooting. "The defense finally kicked in, in the third quarter," said Paul Pierce. Nets guard Deron Williams added, "you definitely have to credit their defense. They are a good defensive team and our offense wasn't very good, our execution wasn't very good, not screening really you are not going to get any easy looks or good shots from that."
MATCHUP TO WATCH - Rajon Rondo vs. Deron Williams: You have two of the NBA's top point guards which is sure to bring out the best in both players. Rondo is coming off a 12-assist, zero-turnover night which has run his consecutive game streak with double-digit assists, to 20. And Williams, who will be a free agent this summer, is the seventh-highest scoring point guard over the past 10 games, with a 17.4 average. He has also averaged 11 assists in that span, second only to Rajon Rondo (14.2).
WHAT WE SAW: This was a very well-played matchup between two of the NBA's premier playmakers. Statistically, these two put up comparable numbers in assists with Rondo having 15 and Williams tallying 14. The difference was in scoring, with Rondo having just four points compared to 12 for Williams. When you throw in the fact that Rondo had more rebounds (4 compared to zero for Williams) and the fact that the C's emerged with the victory, you have to give the slight edge to Rondo.
PLAYER TO WATCH: The Celtics were out-worked on the boards by Toronto, and it will again be a concern heading into tonight's game. As much as the Celtics will key in on Derrick Williams, they might want to keep close tabs on former Celtic Shelden Williams. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, 41 percent of Shelden Williams' rebounds come off the offensive end which means multiple scoring opportunities for Celtic opponents. Only five players with 300 or more rebounds, have a higher percent of their rebounds being offensive, than Williams.
WHAT WE SAW: Boston never allowed Shelden Williams to be a factor. He was the only starter for either team to not score a single point. In addition, the one thing that he has done a good job at most of this season for the Nets - offensive rebound - was an area in which the Celtics managed to keep him from doing any damage. Along without scoring a single point, Williams grabbed just three rebounds - all defensive.
STAT TO TRACK: When the Celtics reflect on what went wrong in the Raptors loss, you can bet that they count not scoring more points in the paint as one of the problems. Fortunately for them, they face a New Jersey teams whose points-in-the-paint woes are just as bad. Boston is averaging an NBA-low 33.6 points scored in the paint. Right behind them are the Nets with a 34.6 points in the paint average.
WHAT WE SAW: Boston was better at looking for points in the paint on Saturday compared to Friday's loss at Toronto, but not by much. The Nets had 36 points in the paint compared to 30 for Boston.