In their Game 1 victory, the Atlanta Hawks pulled off a hell of a trick: not only did they completely negate one of the Chicago Bulls’ greatest advantages, but they did so in a way that flew completely under the radar.
Sure, they bothered Derrick Rose and limited Carlos Boozer. They also took away Chicago’s defensive efficacy by hitting tough shots against considerable pressure. But those things were well evident and, in the aftermath of the game, well-covered. Yet, the fact that the Hawks — a decidedly subpar rebounding team — managed to play the Bulls — the only team in the NBA to rank in the top five in both offensive rebounding rate and defensive rebounding rate — to a draw on the boards went slightly ignored. Basketball fans and analysts are trained to look for glaring differences, but in this case it was the absence of a glaring difference that should have stood out most.
Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer are strong rebounders, but Chicago’s boarding prowess is a team-wide effort; Taj Gibson, Omer Asik, Kurt Thomas, Ronnie Brewer, and Luol Deng all do good work on the glass, and the balance of strong offensive and defensive rebounders made the Bulls the best overall glass-cleaning team in the NBA this season. That standing wasn’t exactly on display in Game 1, as Atlanta limited the effectiveness of Chicago’s offensive rebounders while the Hawk bigs fought to create extra possessions of their own. Al Horford, Zaza Pachulia, and Jason Collins each grabbed at least two offensive boards, while Joakim Noah and Carlos boozer had just one offensive rebound combined.
We’ve seen the Bulls’ rebounding technique in action; there’s no concern of whether Chicago can rebound well in the context of this series, but merely whether they’re willing to put in the proper effort. This was just a matter of execution and effort, and Chicago’s regulars — from Noah to Boozer to Deng to Brewer and beyond — just didn’t attack the boards as assertively as they have all season. It’s an easily remedied situation, but the fact that it’s a situation at all grants the Hawks credit for yet another improbable accomplishment. Out-rebounding the Magic (who are a strong defensive rebounding team, but below average on the offensive end) was one thing, but to meet the Bulls at a point of strength and force a draw was a considerable accomplishment.
Rose, after his struggles and a late-game ankle tweak to boot, will be front and center in the Game 2 spotlight, but keep an eye on the rebounding column. The Bulls should have a considerably easier time if they take care of their responsibilities on the glass, and the Hawks should have yet another chance to steal a win on the road should they remain as successful in their rebounding pursuits.