Numeric Narratives: My Kingdom For A Rebound

The first two games of the Bulls-Pacers series have left me swaying like a pendulum, swinging between appreciation of strong performances and outright frustration at the team's inability to maintain for 48 minutes. The good news is that the Pacers have been competitive in both games, and many of the areas we highlighted in playoff previews have fallen their way. The Pacers are taking care of the basketball, only turning the ball over on 14.3% of their possessions, while forcing the Bulls into turnovers on 16.0% of their possessions. They've found their outside stroke, making 45.7% of their three-pointers in two games. They've also gotten energetic and engaged, if not always effective, play from Tyler Hansbrough.

The bad news is that they lost both games. Twice, they've created huge holes for themselves at the free throw line. For the series the Bulls now have a 22 point edge from the stripe. The national media has been highlighting the play of Derrick Rose as the primary reason the Pacers are in an 0-2 hole. Rose has been terrific, but the Bulls' work on the glass has had just as much to do with their two close victories as Rose's offensive contributions down the stretch.

Through two games the Bulls have grabbed 61.3% of the totals rebounds. To give you an idea of how dominating that performance has been, the Bulls had a Total Rebound Percentage of 53.5% in the regular season, which was the best mark in the league. The Bulls have also posted an Offensive Rebound Percentage of 47.7%. The best mark in the regular season was 29.9%, by the Sacramento Kings. The Bulls have absolutely obliterated the Pacers on the boards.

The knee-jerk reaction is to fault the Pacers' for a lack of effort and composure, or an inability to compete physically. In his Game 2 recap, Jared Wade of Eight Points Nine Seconds, acknowledged those issues but also pointed out that a lot of the Pacers' rebounding struggles are being created by the aggressive way they are defending, trying to keep Derrick Rose out of the paint:

In Indiana’s defense, some of this is collateral damage of their strategy. Being out of place to finish the possession with a rebound is a byproduct of the wild rotations every member of the team — and particularly the bigs — were making to try to, as a unit, keep Derrick Rose from getting to the rim. When he beat his man off the dribble, the front court players had to step up. And even if their presence forces him, or the guy to who he passes, to miss his initial shot, the other Bulls are now in a better position to grab the board.

Still, this can’t be an excuse. At some point, you need to be able to rotate, bother the shot and then retreat to mind the glass. And you can tell by the chaotic recovery seen throughout the first two games that Indy’s bigs just aren’t able to get that job done. Every missed shot shouldn’t feel like such an emergency, and Hibbert, Hansbrough and McRoberts shouldn’t be barely getting back into position, only to get half a hand on the ball and bat it around until a more-composed Bulls players can grab it and put a shot back up at the rim.

As Wade says, the Pacers' bigs need to a better job of rotating and still getting back to body up on their man. However, it would help a lot if the backcourt players could pick up some of the slack. The Pacers' guards, Darren Collison, A.J. Price, Brandon Rush, Mike Dunleavy, and T.J. Ford have combined for just 20 rebounds in two games. As the table below shows, the frontcourt players aren't the only ones who have seen their Total Rebound Percentages decline in the playoffs.

Player TRB% Reg. Season TRB% Playoffs

Josh McRoberts

13.3%

21.0%

Roy Hibbert

15.1%

12.3%

Jeff Foster

20.7%

10.1%

Darren Collison

5.3%

7.9%

Tyler Hansbrough

13.2%

7.4%

Danny Granger

8.5%

5.9%

Paul George

9.8%

5.7%

Brandon Rush

6.9%

5.4%

A.J. Price

5.0%

4.4%

Mike Dunleavy

9.1%

2.0%

T.J. Ford

5.8%

0.0%

Josh McRoberts and Darren Collison are the only Pacers providing more production on the glass than they did during the regular season, everyone else has dropped off, significantly in some cases. Foster, Hansbrough and Granger need to pick up the slack, but another player I think could make a key difference moving forward, is Mike Dunleavy.

At the beginning of the season, the Pacers looked like they might be a historically bad rebounding team. Thanks goodness it didn't turn out that way. Their work on the defensive glass actually put them among the best in the league, and one of the big reasons was Mike Dunleavy. Knowing this was a team weakness, Dunleavy committed himself to helping solve the problem. His Defensive Rebound Percentage of 16.1% was his highest since 2004, and ranked third among all guards in the league this season. Against Chicago, Dunleavy has grabbed just one rebound in 28 minutes.

Of course, asking the backcourt to help out more on the defensive glass may end up doing more harm than good. The Pacers have been effective in transition, and will need to continue that trend to score efficiently against Chicago's defense. Having their guards crash the glass may slow down their transition game. Just playing in Indianapolis may solve some of the problem. Playing on the road may sap a little of Rose's aggressiveness. Less Rose in the paint means more Pacers in better rebounding position. Hopefully, everyone will be extra-energized by a loud and vocal home crowd, helping them attack the glass with a little extra tenacity.

I thought the Pacers would win at least one and possible two games in this series. They've certainly shown they can get close. A few more rebounds could be the difference Thursday night.

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