Tuesday night did not go the way the Indiana Pacers had hoped. Seeking to close out the Washington Wizards in Indianapolis, the home team instead lost by 23 points in a game that was all but over before the fourth quarter began.
The Pacers were outplayed in a number of areas, but nowhere more so than in the rebounding battle. The final tally was 62-23 in favor of the Wizards, making it the largest rebounding differential in the NBA playoffs going back to the 1985-86 season.
There were two challenges for the Pacers on Tuesday night: They didn’t get themselves in position to grab rebounds, and they didn’t convert those opportunities when they had them.
The Pacers rely heavily on their starting five, a reliable rebounding group for most of the season. Of the 21 lineups in the league that played at least 400 minutes together this season, the Pacers’ starters grabbed 51.7 percent of available rebounds — ninth best in the league. But the NBA’s SportVU Player Tracking data can give us a closer look at how well that unit usually rebounds and exactly how atrocious its performance was on the glass in Game 5.
SportVU Player Tracking statistics include rebound chances, defined as any time a player was within 3.5 feet of a rebound (multiple players can meet that definition for a single shot). Rebound chances can be compared with actual rebounds to calculate a conversion percentage for each player. It’s important to remember those multiple opportunities here. Even if the Pacers grabbed every rebound, their conversion percentage might not be 100 percent because more than one teammate could have earned a rebound chance by being around the ball on a single shot.
Here we can see the dramatic drop off in both rebound opportunities and conversions in Game 5. The Pacers starters put themselves in rebounding position far less often and lost far more of those individual rebounding battles than they usually do. Circling back to total rebound percentage, we find this group grabbed just 25 percent of the available rebounds in the 20 minutes they played together in Game 5.
This performance can’t be pinned entirely on the Pacers; the Wizards were aggressive from the opening tip and deserve plenty of credit for forcing the Pacers into this kind of drab performance. Wizards center Marcin Gortat was a force, pulling in 16 rebounds on 24 rebound chances. But this kind of rebounding disparity requires effort (or the lack thereof) from both teams.
It’s unlikely the Pacers will put up another rebounding performance this disastrous, but the damage may be done. By allowing themselves to be so thoroughly pushed around on the interior, they have given the Wizards new life.