WALTHAM, Mass. -- Here's example No. 1,472 of Brad Stevens' attention to detail. On a snowy Tuesday in mid-December, Stevens was asked about the team's uptick in rebounding from perimeter players and when that became a point of emphasis.
Without hesitation, Stevens noted it was the first exhibition game against Toronto. You know, the one 72 days and 33 games ago. It ought to feel like a lifetime ago for Stevens in his whirlwind first season in the NBA. But, no, he even rattled off the exact rebounding totals as if it were his wedding anniversary. He'd probably have known the individual breakdown if we had asked for it.
"We got beat 46-26 on the glass by Toronto and from that point on, we had to be a perimeter rebounding team," Stevens said. "And we haven't been great all year, by any means. But any time we need to refocus ourselves, that's usually where we head."
Boston spent much of the first month of the season in the league basement in terms of defensive rebound percentage. Even with a late November surge, the team ranked 25th at 73.4 percent over the first 19 games.
December has been a much better month. Boston currently sits eighth in the league in defensive rebound percentage at 75.9 percent, and that's after giving up a whopping 19 offensive rebounds to the Minnesota Timberwolves Tuesday night.
What's changed? Boston's undersized frontcourt has put an increased focus on technique, boxing out their taller counterparts, and even when the bigs aren't able to get to the boards, it has allowed the Celtics' perimeter players to swoop in for rebounds.
Consider this: Avery Bradley's defensive rebound percentage through seven games this month is 14.1 percent. That's a ½ percentage point higher than Jared Sullinger (13.6). Bradley's rebound rate is nearly double his career average (7.7 percent) and he's hauling in 4.1 defensive rebounds per game this month (third-best on the team behind Kris Humphries and Brandon Bass).
But it's not just Bradley. Jeff Green, who has rarely been a consistent rebounder, is grabbing 4.0 defensive rebounds per game this month. Gerald Wallace (3.3) and Jordan Crawford (2.9) are doing their part, all while the likes of Sullinger (3.7), Kelly Olynyk (2.5) and Vitor Faverani (1.6) take care of the dirty work.
"I think it's just a team effort," Sullinger said. "If you look at [Friday's win over the Knicks], prime example in the first quarter, I had a rebound but Avery went to go get it. We really didn't have that at the beginning of the year. Our guards kind of depended on the bigs to rebound. Now our guards are getting in the mix.
"If you look at the fourth quarter [of that Knicks game], there were some big-time rebounds. Brandon got a lot. Vitor got a big one. But the key one was Jeff, when he blocked Carmelo's shot and grabbed it at the same time with like three people around him. We didn't have that at the beginning of the season. With those guys stepping up -- Avery, Jordan, Bass -- it's really helped us out as a team."
Bradley said he's challenged himself to become a better rebounder because of his athleticism. He believes Boston's guards have to use their speed to help take pressure off the bigs considering the size they are giving up.
Keep in mind, Boston is set to get back one of the best rebounding guards in the league in Rajon Rondo.
But don't discount what Humphries and Bass are doing in not only getting bodies on guys, but also getting to the ball. Humphries has a team-best defensive rebound rate of 26.1 percent for December, while Bass, whose rebounding is often cited as one of his weaknesses, is getting to 24.2 percent of available defensive caroms over the last seven games. Those are some excellent numbers for undersized bigs. Maybe not surprisingly, Boston is 5-2 this month.
Defensive rebounding will be of premium importance on Wednesday when the Detroit Pistons visit TD Garden. Detroit turned 15 offensive rebounds into 19 second-chance points in an 87-77 triumph over the Celtics in November. The Celtics have to find a way to keep Andre Drummond, Greg Monroe and Josh Smith off the glass.
The guards know they have to do their part.
"That's something that our coaches tell us -- if [the bigs] box out, the guards can come in and get the rebounds, and that's what they've been doing," Bradley said. "It's been big for our whole team."