When Patrick Beverley first arrived with the Timberwolves, he said one of the first things he asked coach Chris Finch was: “What do you think of our rebounding?”
Beverley said Finch told him they were a “very thin” team and that it might be a struggle.
Throughout the season the Wolves were one of the worst defensive rebounding teams in the league, and in Memphis, they have been facing the best offensive rebounding team in the league by percentage.
“It’s kind of been everything right now.”
The series is more complicated than one stat, but when the Wolves have kept the Grizzlies off the offensive glass, they have won. When they haven’t, Memphis has won and it’s one big reason why the series is 2-2 headed into Game 5 at Memphis on Tuesday.
“That’s the name of the game,” Beverley said, “who rebounds the ball well.”
In their Game 1 victory, the Wolves allowed only eight offensive rebounds; in Game 4 just six.
In Game 2, Memphis grabbed 14 offensive boards on their way to a blowout win, while offensive rebounds helped fuel their Game 3 comeback, when they had 13 offensive rebounds. The Grizzlies tallied five offensive boards and another five “team rebounds” in the fourth quarter along to score 17 second-chance points on their way to eliminate the Wolves’ 25-point second-half lead.
“It’s kind of been everything right now,” Finch said about the rebounding.
Finch said the Wolves’ ability to rebound begins on defense before a shot goes up. The more the Wolves keep the Grizzlies on the outside, the better their chances of getting in a position for a rebound will be.
“Anytime you keep the ball out of the paint, you’re going to rebound better, for the most part,” Finch said. “The ball gets to your paint, it really distorts your defense. When you’re already small like we are, it makes it even harder. So, our guards have to continue to do a really good job rebounding the ball. And when they ‘ve been able to do that, that’s helped us immensely.”
Beverley, who has a reputation for being one of the best rebounding guards in the league, said he concentrates on trying to get long rebounds.
“Trying to get to the ones that bounce hard, the ones the guards shoot from the free-throw line,” Beverley said. “The big bounces. … free throw line out to the baseline. The long rebounds. I let the big guys handle all that other stuff.”
Center Karl-Anthony Towns had 14 and forward Jarred Vanderbilt had eight on Saturday night. The Wolves also forced 19 turnovers, which is as foolproof a way of making sure Memphis doesn’t crash the offensive glass.
When they do, Memphis might send everybody.
“It’s very difficult,” guard Jordan McLaughlin said. “Sometimes at a point in the game, they may have five guys crashing. We’ve always got to check and make sure we box out when we need to box out and get the rebound.”
Memphis has made the Wolves’ job on the offensive glass a bit easier this series because Towns’ presence has kept Steven Adams on the bench. Adams averaged 4.6 offensive rebounds per game and had the highest offensive rebound percentage (.159) of any player who averaged at least 15 minutes.
But those who have been replacing Adams, like Brandon Clarke and Xavier Tillman, have strong offensive rebounding metrics. There’s a drop-off that has made it easier on the Wolves, but the personnel Memphis is using is more than capable of picking up extra points thanks to the offensive glass.
“Two times we’ve done it, we’ve won,” Finch said. “… So, I think that’s really hugely important for us.”