Celtics' fourth-quarter struggles a result of poor rebounding


BOSTON – Kyrie Irving often refers to the fourth quarter as “winning time.”

He’s right.

It is winning time … for Celtics opponents lately.

Monday’s 111-103 Christmas Day loss to the Washington Wizards was yet another night in which the Celtics were unable to close out a team in a game that was truly up in the air until the fourth quarter.


Boston had pulled ahead 95-90 following a 3-pointer by Irving in the fourth quarter with 6:18 to play.

From there, it was all Washington as the Wizards closed out the game with a 21-8 run to get the win.

It was an all-too-familiar denouement for how games have played out for the Celtics lately.

When looking at the Celtics and their play in the fourth quarter, the focus should be on the two most significant portions of the season: the 16-game winning streak and the 19 games afterwards.

Boston’s 16-game winning streak was the fourth-longest in franchise history, so you know they were playing at an extremely high level.

The key to the Celtics’ success in that span centered around their then top-ranked defense (Boston has a defensive rating of 101.0 now which ranks second to Golden State’s 100.8 rating).

But what often made their games Must-see TV, was how they could manage to trail for significant chunks of games and turn it on in the fourth quarter to get the win.

During the streak, Boston averaged a league-best 5.2 points off turnovers while limiting opponents to just 2.3 points which was also tops in the NBA during that span. Also in the fourth quarter, the Celtics ranked in the top-seven in second-chance points (3.7, 7th in the league), opponent second-chance points (2.5, 5th) and opponent fast-break points (1.4, 3rd).

But since the streak, Boston has gone 11-8.

Not surprisingly, the biggest fall-offs in the fourth quarter have come defensively.

After ranking in the top 10 in rebounding percentage (.536, 3rd in the league) and defensive rebounding percentage (.797, 9th) during the streak, the 19 games since then have seen Boston fall to dead-last in both categories.

While there are a number of areas Boston hasn’t been great at in the fourth quarter recently, rebounding has stood out as the one area that has been the biggest hurdle standing in their way to victory.

In the loss to Washington, the Wizards had as many offensive rebounds (7) as the Celtics had total (7) in the fourth.

“It’s the idea that you had a stop and then you gave up a basket,” said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens. “You know, like, you’ve got to finish plays at a better level. You know that’s pretty consistent theme with us over the last couple weeks.”

While there’s no getting around how the Celtics have taken a step back in terms of closing out teams in the fourth quarter, they still rank among the top teams in the NBA and have shown us all that the moment they’re about to be counted out, they step up to create yet another ‘how-did-they-do-that? moment.

“It hasn’t been one of the best stretches for us, but we have a resilient group,” said Celtics guard Kyrie Irving. “That right there is enough for us to continue to go on and make progress in the right direction. We’re still developing our relationships and our roles. Obviously, when we won 16 in a row it was all great. And now, we have all this going on. It’s part of the game. You can’t change your approach or anything about the way you approach it … everything will be fine.”


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