My apologies to Dennis Rodman, but there just isn’t anything sexy about rebounding. Rarely – if ever – do we find ourselves oohing and ahhing over a YouTube video titled “The Top-50 Defensive Rebound of All-Time.” But, hey, that doesn’t mean doing the dirty work on the glass isn’t a vital piece of the puzzle, right?
Indeed, all year long we’ve seen how a poor rebounding unit can bite a team in the butt. The Chicago Bulls have carried a below-average 49.5 rebounding percentage this season, which ranks 17th in the league, per NBA Stats. They have especially struggled on the offensive end, where their 24.9 OREB% sits behind only the Philadelphia 76ers and Washington Wizards for the worst mark in the league.
This rebounding deficiency would have been a storyline regardless of the playoff opponent, but it felt heightened when the Milwaukee Bucks were officially on the Bulls’ schedule. Arguably the team’s worst possible matchup for several reasons, the Bucks’ size advantage in the frontcourt presented a serious problem on the glass. Milwaukee hauled in the 2nd-most rebounds per game during the regular season. Giannis Antetokounmpo sat 7th in the league with 11.6 per game, while old friend Bobby Portis ranked 23rd with his 9.1 boards per game.
To no surprise, this duo is a big reason why Milwaukee won the rebounding battle in each of the four contests against the Bulls this season. The Bucks averaged roughly 10 more total rebounds than the Bulls per game, and they out-rebounded the Bulls a staggering 53-33 in the second-to-last contest of the season. For Chicago to even stand a chance in this series, they were going to have to find a way to have a more active presence at the rim. And, to their credit, they did just that in Game 1.
While the Bulls did lose the overall battle 58-53, they put up one of their better communal efforts on the glass this season. Zach LaVine earned himself a double-double in his first career playoff game by hauling in 10 boards to go along with his 18 points. The All-Star guard constantly had his eyes at the rim, making up a lot of ground on several possessions to fly in and secure the defensive rebound. Meanwhile, DeMar DeRozan added eight of his own rebounds to the box score, and Coby White added four in his 23 minutes off the bench.
The greatest tip of the hat, though, has to go to Nikola Vucevic. One of the best rebounders in the game, Vucevic looked the part in Game 1 with 17 total boards, including a season-high eight on the offensive end! He snatched an offensive rebound through four Bucks in the 1st quarter, boxed out Giannis Antetokounmpo on several possessions, and snatched the ball over a physical Bobby Portis. While it would have been nice to see him convert on a couple more of his put-back opportunities, it was still an encouraging sign to watch him give the Bucks’ frontcourt this much trouble on the glass.
Look, I’m not going to waste your time talking too much about one rebounding performance in one playoff basketball game. But I felt like it was clear the team prioritized this area of their game in practices over the past week. The overall communal effort went a long way in ensuring the Bulls kept this game within arm’s reach, and I can only hope we see a similarly gritty performance in the coming games.