Hawks vs Pacers Game 1: Rebounding key for Atlanta

Andy Lyons

While the majority of attention is being paid to the individual match-ups and star players, the key to the series between the Indiana Pacers and the Atlanta Hawks could be as simple as controlling the glass.

Rebounding is one of the most overlooked parts of basketball. Yes, you may see the rebounding margin referenced in a place such as this when it is quite lopsided, simply to prove a point, but in general, the average fan largely ignores the glass. However, if there is a singular indication (aside from simply making open shots/threes) that could provide some insight to the Atlanta Hawks' upset bid against the Indiana Pacers, it could come on the glass.

For the season, Indiana has been one of best rebounding teams in basketball, even amidst high-profile bashing of Pacers center Roy Hibbert for his "inability" to secure the boards. The Pacers finished the season 3rd in the NBA in rebound percentage, grabbing 52% of available rebounds over their 82-game schedule, and they rank even higher (2nd in the league) in preventing second shot opportunities, as they put up a defensive rebound rate of 76.8%.

In a vacuum, rebounding 52% of shots may not seem like a lot, but when you remember that the Hawks are relatively impotent on the boards, the issue becomes less murky. Atlanta is 26th in the NBA in rebound rate at 47.9%, and (on cue) they are even worse on the offensive glass, snatching only 21% of their own misses, which seemingly would play directly into the hands of the Pacers.

Roy Hibbert, as mentioned above, has been taking all kinds of flack for his woeful rebounding totals (4.7 boards per game since the All-Star break), and at 7-foot-2, those concerns are certainly warranted to a degree. However, Indiana is in a unique spot in that they get rebounding production from everywhere on the floor. Four out of their five starters averaged 6.6 rebounds per game this season (the only team in the league to do that), and even George Hill (the only one who didn't reach that total) ranks in the top-10 at his position in rebounds per game.

This (quite obviously) presents a unique challenge for Atlanta, and with the fact that Mike Budenholzer has repeatedly emphasized "gang rebounding" this season, this is the time to display that effort. Only one member of the Hawks active roster averaged more than 5.5 rebounds per game (Paul Millsap) and while the totals are a bit deceiving with playing time changes, etc., it certainly isn't a great match-up on paper.

To be clear, no one expects the Hawks to win the rebounding battle against the much bigger and arguably more athletic Pacers, but making things reasonably competitive could be huge in this series. Indiana relies heavily on their defense, and the ability to close possessions with a defensive rebound is something that is a signature for them this season. The Hawks will never be a full-on "crash" team to the offensive glass, but a spare opportunity here and there could be huge, especially on a night where the significant amount of threes that Atlanta is expected to take aren't falling.

We'll know soon enough, but it's time to gang rebound with a vengeance.

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