Tristan Thompson’s activity on the glass was a difference-maker for the Cavaliers in Game 7 against the Pacers. After having not played in Games 2, 3, or 5, the battle-tested big man made an immediate impact with his physicality — particularly when wielding it against Myles Turner.
Building a 31-19 lead by the end of the first quarter, Thompson’s insertion into the starting lineup was shrewd, even if also long-overdue. On the season, the Pacers were 21-27 in games when they got outrebounded, a win percentage significantly worse than their overall record.
For a team which thrived in the open floor, winning the turnover battle sometimes allowed them to survive getting obliterated on glass.
Take for instance, the time when they caused 18 turnovers against the Sixers and won by eight points despite getting crushed in second chance points, 16-2.
Of course, in addition to swarming defense and speed, accomplishing that type of feat also requires some cooperation on behalf of your opponent.
Whereas Philly had the highest turnover rate in the league last season, Cleveland went the entire first quarter of Game 7 without committing a turnover.
All of which serves to explain why Nate McMillan intends to, yet again, impress upon his team the importance of crashing the glass.
“We said it all last year,” McMillan said at the Pacers Foundation Golf Outing. “I said it right here at this interview last year. That’s going to be the No. 1 emphasis this year for us is to be a better rebounding team.”
During the Frank Vogel-era, because the team’s anemic offense was reliant upon capping off defensive possessions and generating more second-chance opportunities than their opponent, the Pacers never completed a season ranked in the bottom half of the league in rebounding rate. Rather, barring the 2015-16 season and its on-again, off-again infatuation with small-ball, those smash-mouth teams were annual fixtures among the top ten.
Since then, they’ve placed no better than 19th.
Even so, refocusing the team’s attention on rebounding won’t be without effect.
“Our bigs know they have to do a better job of rebounding,” said McMillan. “but our guards need to get in and help on the boards.”
Just like pursuing the offensive glass can negatively impact transition defense, calling for multiple guards to come down and smash elite offensive rebounders has the potential to leave fast-break opportunities on the cutting room floor.
Likewise, a consequence of doubling the team’s interior presence with various combinations of Turner, Sabonis, and O’Quinn could mean surrendering a higher three-point attempt rate to opponents.
In both respects, as also is the case for the Pacers on a macro-level, the translation of Turner’s offseason workouts to game action provides arguably the clearest solution for how to bolster their team effort.