Celtics rebounding problem as bad as it gets

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Celtics rebounding problem as bad as it gets

BOSTON To see the Boston Celtics at or near the bottom of the standings when it comes to rebounds isn't all that surprising.

After all, it's not like it's anything Celtics fans haven't seen in recent years.

But what's disturbing about things right now is that as bad as the C's have been in recent years, there are signs that they are getting worse.

And that does not bode well for a Celtics team that's looking to rebound this week - literally and figuratively - against two of the top teams in the NBA, San Antonio on Wednesday followed by Oklahoma City Friday night.

Boston is currently ranked dead-last in rebounding this season, with 36.8 rebounds per game. Even more telling about their rebounding woes is their rebounding margin this season is minus-5.3 per game which is also last in the league.

And that 5.3 rebounding deficit per game marks the third straight season the rebounding gap for the C's has expanded from the previous season.

The Celtics have been given a pass of sorts when it comes to struggling to rebound, courtesy of shooting a high percentage and winning a lot of games.

This season, the C's are fifth in the league in field goal percentage which is exactly where they were last season.

But things are different right now.

The C's are just a game over .500 and while they remain a relatively high-percentage shooting team, it is clear that the problems they have had on the boards has been a contributing factor of sorts for some of their other problems.

Celtics coach Doc Rivers recognizes how rebounding-challenged his team has been this season. But when he looks around the NBA, he sees a number of the top teams also having their issues when it comes to banging the boards.

Miami is just ahead of Boston at No. 29 in rebounding this season, but the Heat rank 21st in rebounding margin.

The New York Knicks have come up on the short end of the rebounding game most of the season despite record-wise being one of the league's top teams.

They rank 26th in rebounding and 28th in rebounding margin.

"We want to be a better rebounding team; there's no doubt about that," Rivers said. "For us to win big, we have to be. Do you have to lead the league in rebounding? I don't know if that's necessarily the truth. But we have to be a better rebounding team."

Even in their struggles, rebounding margin in the past pointed out that the Celtics were a better rebounding team than their shear rebounding totals might have indicated.

Last year, Boston was the league's worst-rebounding team. But their rebounding margin ranked 28th in the league. In 2011, the C's ranked 29th in rebounding but were up to No. 19 in rebounding margin.

And in 2010 when they advanced all the way to the NBA Finals, the C's were next-to-last in rebounding but finished 25th in rebounding margin.

Even when they were a better-than-average rebounding team, their rebounding margin rank was still consistently better.

Boston was the eighth-best rebounding team in 2009, and were No. 2 that year in rebounding margin. In 2008 when they brought home banner 17, the C's were 12th in rebounds but were the third-best in terms of rebounding margin.

So what does this mean going forward for the Celtics?

Focusing on their rebounding totals is important to keep an eye on, but not necessarily vital to them being a great team. The margin of rebounds per game is a far more telling indicator where they are in terms of rebounding success.

And if the Celtics are to have the kind of season they believe they are capable of, they need to bounce back and rebound - literally and figuratively - from their current struggles on the boards.

Haggerty: Rask puts up, makes critics shut up

Haggerty: Rask puts up, makes critics shut up

BOSTON -- The decision to sit out Saturday night's game against the Islanders, for whatever issue needed healing, worked wonders for Tuukka Rask.

Rask looked fresh, strong and determined while stopping 24 of 25 shots in a 4-1 win over Nashville on Tuesday night, and, at the very least, temporarily quieting talk of his missing Saturday's win over the Islanders because of a lower-body injury that wasn't disclosed until the day of the game. It also snapped his personal four-game losing streak, in which Rask had allowed 15 goals on 95 shots (an .842 save percentage) and hit rock bottom while surrendering a couple of damaging soft goals in last week's loss to the Lightning.

After watching Anton Khudobin battle, brawl and double-pad-stack his way to a huge win in Brooklyn on Saturday, Rask played with his own battling style Tuesday, fighting through Nashville attackers as he limited the the Preds to one goal.

"I loved [his battle]," said interim coach Bruce Cassidy. "He really worked hard to find pucks in traffic. They created some good opportunities, and even the goal against, he found it. They just tipped it at eye level so it was going to be a tough one, and we need to be better in the shooting lane on that one.

"But I thought he was terrific, very pleased with his performance. If you've got to track pucks, you've got to find pucks and you've got to fight through bodies, and he did a real good job with it.

"I thought we played well in front of him, but when we broke down it seemed to be in those areas where we couldn't break the puck up below our goal line. [There were] lot of bodies, a lot of point shots. This is the type of team, [Ryan] Ellis, [P.K.] Subban, [Roman] Josi, they rely on that part of the game and traffic. It was going to be a test for [the defense] there. I thought [Rask] answered the bell and in a terrific manner."

There were no two ways about it, Rask was truly excellent in a game where he had to be.

He made a save in the second period on Viktor Arvidsson when a David Backes turnover at the half-wall gave Arvidsson a wide open look at the net, and made 9 of his 24 saves in the third period as the Predators ramped up the desperation once Craig Smith had broken through on a tipped Josi shot. He also was the beneficiary of 24 blocked shots from the defenders in front of him. Adam McQuaid had five of the blocks all by himself,  absorbing all kinds of bumps and bruises in the process.

It was clear that the Bruins, as a team, were in late-season urgency mode.

"Well, we needed [a win]," said Rask. "Personally, I mean, I've lost four games but played a couple good games there, and we just didn't get the bounces. But we kind of got in winning habits there in [Broooklyn] and me stepping in here, I just wanted to make sure that I gave us a chance to win. The guys did the rest. So, it was a great team effort today, I think. As I said before, we blocked a lot of shots, which is huge."

So does one solid performance mean everything is settled for the B's No. 1 netminder after sitting out last weekend?

It certainly goes a long way toward putting some distance between Rask and whatever lower-body injury popped up and then disappeared just as quickly, and it puts a bit more of an optimistic spin for the remainder of the season. Rask didn't actively listen to any of the criticism of the last couple of days, but he fully understands that it comes along with the territory of being the No. 1 goalie in a city that takes hockey seriously.

"I can't do anything about what people say," said Rask, who took a pretty good hit on a Predators drive to the net in the third period but kept right on trucking. "I'm not staying home because I want to say home. I'm not playing because I don't want to play. I don't think any athlete does that. Obviously what's happened where I missed a game [vs. Ottawa] last year, people are going to talk about it. That's just the nature of media people, and what they talk about. It's fine.

"[All you can do is] you try not to read any of it, you stay even-keeled and you play the game the right way."

But the bottom line is the Bruins need much more of what they saw from Rask on Tuesday -- determined, tough-minded, a strong No. 1 goalie -- in the final six games if they want to be a playoff team this year.

He played well enough in the first few months, carrying the Bruins through the early portion of the season, to make people forget about calling in sick against Ottawa in the final game of last season. That's to Rask's credit. But last weekend's action, or lack of it, brought some of those same nagging questions back. He needs to build on Tuesday's encouraging performance to continue instilling confidence that he's a big-time No. 1 goalie.

Morning Wrap: Looking at C's potential first-round foes

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Morning Wrap: Looking at C's potential first-round foes

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