Emphasis on rebounding pays off for Celtics

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Emphasis on rebounding pays off for Celtics

By A. Sherrod Blakely
CSNNE.com

NEW YORK When it comes to rebounding, the Boston Celtics have a body of work this season that doesn't elicit too much confidence that when a shot is missed, it'll be hauled in by one of the men in Green.

But this is the playoffs, and things have a way of not quite following the regular season script.

That certainly was the case on Friday as the Boston Celtics controlled the boards for most of the night against the Knicks which factored heavily into Boston's 113-96 Game 3 win.

Boston can close out the series with a victory on Sunday.

"One of the things we worked on in practice was rebounding better off the help," said Boston's Kevin Garnett. "We are a help defensive team, but our second effort has to be better and it was tonight. We got bodies on bodies and we were able to get rebounds."

Added Paul Pierce: "We wanted to make an emphasis on putting bodies on people and boxing out."

For the game, the Celtics out-rebounded the Knicks 43-33. Among those boards, 13 were offensive which contributed to the C's having a 22-15 advantage in second-chance points.

The Celtics getting any offensive rebounds is surprising when you consider how they place such a great emphasis on making sure they're in position to limit teams getting out in transition, which often results in them not attacking the offensive glass.

Boston grabbed just an NBA-record low 639 offensive rebounds this past season, shattering the not-so-long-standing mark they set the previous season when they collected just 716.

Rivers knows all too well that offensive rebounds have been hard to come by for his team in recent years.

But he said there wasn't any added focus put on grabbing them on Friday.

"The only thing we did was what we should have done," Rivers said. "If you are going to go, you go but you get back to a body. There was no change. We did what we should have been doing."

Back pain limits Stoudemire

Amar'e Stoudemire wasn't himself.

Yes, the Boston Celtics' stingy defense certainly played a role in his struggles.

But there's no way to ignore Stoudemire's back problems which left his playing status in limbo shortly before tip-off in Boston's 113-96 Game 3 win.

Stoudemire, noticeably limited when on the floor, had just seven points on 2-for-8 shooting.

And while he expects to play in Game 4 on Sunday, Stoudemire is realistic about the situation.

"There is no way I will be 100 percent by Sunday," he said. "Tonight, I knew I wasn't 100 percent but I also knew my teammates needed me to be out there."

Still, with a limited Stoudemire running up and down the floor, the Celtics did what any veteran team would do - they took advantage of him.

The back pain didn't allow him to explode to the basket off the dribble like he's used to. And when he shot jumpers, there was very little lift on them which resulted in most being either too long or too short.

"Quick moves weren't quite there," Stoudemire admitted. "I couldn't make any sharp, quick moves. It bothered my elevation and driving to the basket."

Although Stoudemire isn't known as a great defender, his athleticism allows him to get his share of blocks - that is, when he's healthy.

"Defensively, (just) trying to be a presence and on the court, trying to be a verbal leader," he said.

Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni talked about how Stoudemire took Friday's loss hard.

"He was upset," D'Antoni said. "His heart is in a great place. He gave us everything he got. His body is a little bit dead, but I expect him to be ready Sunday."

Adjustments on Melo

Carmelo Anthony is always going to be at or near the top of the scouting report.

After dropping 42 points on the Celtics in Game 2, it was a given that the C's would pay even more attention to the four-time All-star.

That added attention paid off in a dominant defensive showing, as Anthony scored just 15 points on 4-for-16 shooting in the Celtics win.

Paul Pierce, who had a game-high 38 points, was the primary defender on Anthony.

When asked about the changes he made in defending Anthony, Pierce said, "just stayed on his body, for the most part. I thought I got off his body a lot (in Game 2). I just wanted to make him finish over the top, not give him easy ones. For the most part, I think I was able to do that."

But defending Anthony was not a one-man gig.

"They made adjustments, especially defending me," Anthony said. "They doubled. Every time I got the ball, they sent someone over."

When he got the ball in the middle of the post or on the elbow, the Celtics sent help defenders which led to most of Anthony's shots being tightly contested.

"I try to get the ball cross-court and try to loosen the defense up," said Anthony, who had a team-high six assists. "It just seemed liked they weren't loosening up."

A. Sherrod Blakely can be reached at sblakely@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Sherrod on Twitter at http:twitter.comsherrodbcsn

Celtics should roll the dice on Dragan Bender

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Celtics should roll the dice on Dragan Bender

Danny Ainge recently hinted on Toucher & Rich that the Celtics were interested in drafting Dragan Bender.

And they need to do exactly that. 

No, I'm not crazy. Neither is Danny.

Drafting Bender is the Celtics' best option. As Ainge pointed out, his job is to make the move that's best for the team. Not just for the short term, but for the long haul.

Now, I can't say I've been to Croatia to work out Bender. Like many of you, I 've only seen him via the Internet.

It is easy to look at him and think he’s a project. That’s because he is. He’s 18 and, even though he's 7 feet tall, he only weighs about 220 soaking wet. He's a kid, too skinny at the moment for the NBA, and would no doubt get killed if you put in the post today.

And, like I said, I'm not crazy. I'm not committed to Bender. If  Sacramento calls and offers Boogie Cousins for any combination of picks the Celtics have, the deal should be made immediately. To a degree, I feel the same way about Jimmy Butler. However, the consensus is those two players aren't going anywhere. (And even if they are available, suppose the Lakers decide to dangle the No. 2 pick for either of them? That would make a trade nearly impossible for Boston.)

But if the Celtics keep the third pick -- and he isn't taken by either Philly or L.A. (highly unlikely) -- Dragen Bender should be Ainge's choice. And it will be the right move.

Let’s break it down.

There's just no one else in this draft with Bender's upside. Buddy Hield is a 22-year-old shooting guard who completely disappeared in the NCAA championship game. He has a shot to be a very good NBA player, but he won’t transform the organization. Neither would Jamal Murray from Kentucky. Nor Kris Dunn from Providence.

The risk for Bender is HUGE. The reward is even HUGER. Ah, that’s not a word, right? Well then, BIGGER THAN HUGE! Or HUGEST!

Bender could be that guy.

And, I also admit, he also wind up playing in Europe or Israel.

Still, Danny has to roll the dice on this guy.

Bender can handle the ball, block shots, shoot the 3, and -- like all European players -- is fundamentally sound. The issue for this kid is toughness in the low post and getting stronger. I put my money on Celtics strength and conditioning coach Bryan Doo to get him ready for NBA life.

And I'm not one those boneheads who are pushing for Bender because Kristaps Porzingis has worked out for the Knicks. One has nothing to do with the other. For every Porzingis there's at least one Stojko Vrankovic. Or Darko Milicic.

Take Bender, Danny. In two years this guy may have gained 15 to 20 pounds of muscle, learned the rigors on and off the court of the NBA, and look like the next Porzingis, Or Dirk Nowitzki or Porzingis. Then use the other two Brooklyn first-round picks, and the Celtics could be back on their way to greatness.

But if you play it safe, Danny, and don't take Bender, the Green will simply be stuck in the mud of mediocrity.  

Ben Bentil ready for opportunity to showcase his talents in the NBA

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Ben Bentil ready for opportunity to showcase his talents in the NBA

BOSTON – Opportunity.

Ben Bentil learned at an early age to recognize it and in doing so, make the most of it when it presents itself.

That’s how a 15-year-old kid from Ghana, who grew up wanting to be a professional volleyball player at one point winds up playing basketball and soccer at one of the most prestigious boarding schools in the United States (St. Andrews School in Wilmington, Del., which is where the move Dead Poets Society was filmed in 1989).

That’s how that same kid goes from being a role-playing freshman at Providence College last season, to the Big East’s leading scorer a year later – and doing so in the shadows of Kris Dunn, a high-scoring guard who is a consensus top-10 pick in next month’s NBA draft.

“I’m glad I had the best point guard in the country on my team,” Bentil, who averaged a Big East-leading 21.1 points per game this past season for Providence, told CSNNE.com. “We took advantage of it.”

And with the June 23 NBA draft on the horizon, Bentil once again finds himself in position to make the most of an opportunity that so few saw coming this quickly in his career.

“It’s been an unbelievable journey,” said Bentil who averaged 6.4 points and five rebounds per game as a freshman.

A journey that by all accounts is far from over.

Prior to deciding to stay in this year’s draft, the sophomore big man wanted to see how he stacked up against other draft hopefuls at the NBA pre-draft combine in Chicago. He took advantage of a new rule that allows college players to participate in the combine and return to college if they don’t sign with an agent.

This would prove to be yet another opportunity that Bentil made the most of.

In his first game, he had 15 points and 11 rebounds in just 20 minutes.

The next day he had 17 points and six rebounds in just 19 minutes.

Those strong performances combined with really good feedback from NBA executives at the combine and afterwards, made Bentil’s decision to stay in the draft a no-brainer.

A league executive contacted by CSNNE.com in reference to Bentil said he’s “a solid second round pick now,” adding, “and could work his way into the late first-round depending on workouts.”

A second league executive contacted by CSNNE.com via text on Tuesday morning echoed similar sentiments.

“Good second round pick,” the text read. “Could impress teams, play his way into mid-to-late 20s of first round.”

That jibes with the factors Bentil said would likely need to be in place for him to stay in the draft.

“If I know I’ll go in those ranges, I’ll probably stay in,” Bentil said.

In addition to his scoring and rebounding, Bentil also eased the concerns a number of teams had about his size.

At the combine he measured out at 6-8 ¼ with a solid 7-1 ½ wingspan. In addition, Bentil’s hand length was 9.50 inches, which tied 7-footer Dedric Lawson for the longest hands at the combine. Bentil also showed his shooting touch from the perimeter as he knocked down 14-of-25 NBA 3s taken from five different spots on the floor.

And at Providence, the Friars did a lot of switching defensively which often meant Bentil had to guard smaller, seemingly quicker players – the kind of challenge he’ll face in the NBA where teams live on a healthy diet of pick-and-roll sets.

Knowing that Bentil has the quickness to hold his own defensively on switches and the length to where being undersized won’t be as big a detriment as feared on the boards or in getting his shots off offensively, Bentil finds himself in good shape to take advantage of what should be increased opportunities leading up to next month’s draft.

Bentil worked out for five teams initially, but a representative with Octagon basketball told CSNNE.com that Bentil’s list of teams to work out for will be expanded. In addition, Octagon has a pro workout day this week with several teams (the Celtics are expected to be among them) having representatives in attendance to watch the workouts of Octagon clients.

And that will present yet another opportunity – there’s that word again – for Bentil to showcase his talents.