In a furious scrap for rebounding positioning against Indiana Pacers center Roy Hibbert, Marcin Gortat got shoved from behind, hopped and slapped his two hands on the court. Hibbert tapped Lance Stephenson’s missed bank shot while Gortat was still stumbling with his back to the action. As Gortat turned around to determine where he was and what was going on, the ball had bounded high and was hanging in the air, waiting for him to grab it. And as he had for the entire night, Gortat did, hauling in his 12th rebound of the night.
The fortuitous bounce could be viewed as dumb luck, but Gortat earned an easy carom or two as a reward for all of his hard work in the Wizards’ 102-79 victory in Game 5 of their Eastern Conference semifinal victory over the Pacers. Gortat had 16 rebounds, including a career-high seven on offense, to lead one of the most decisive rebound beatdowns in NBA playoff history.
“I think it was just the flow of the game,” Gortat said of his rebounds. “I would say I was in zone. I felt great, and I was just attacking the rim. We don’t have anything to lose now. We can’t lose. We play desperate. That’s what we have to do. We don’t have another choice. We have to play every minute, every possession, like it’s the last possession of our lives of the season.”
Four days after scoring a franchise-low 63 points in Game 3, the Wizards grabbed 62 rebounds compared to just 23 for the Pacers. The plus-39 rebound discrepancy is tied for the third-largest margin ever in a playoff game. Only the 1960 Boston Celtics (plus-43) and 1971 Atlanta Hawks (plus-41) had more resounding rebound advantages. The NBA hadn’t seen a more decisive board performance in the regular season or postseason since the New York Knicks in 1992.
“I think for us, you always hear me talk about our pace of play. And when we have great pace of play with ball movement and player movement, it’s hard for the defense to get set man on man and check bodies,” Coach Randy Wittman said. “I think [Game 5] was one of our best, other than Game 1 probably, that our pace of play and body movement in the halfcourt was excellent. And when we do that, it does open up opportunities from an offensive standpoint to get to the glass. And I think that’s what we saw.”
The Pacers have made it clear that they would rather surrender a defensive rebound than let John Wall burn them in transition. When a Pacers shoot, George Hill, Lance Stephenson and Paul George drop back to cut off any possible fast break opportunities for Wall.
The move had been confounding and frustrating for Wall in the first four games of the series. But it proved to be the demise of the Pacers in Game 5, when the Wizards crashed the boards as a team. All seven Wizards who played at 15 minutes grabbed at least four rebounds, with Trevor Ariza grabbing 10, Drew Gooden hauling in nine and Bradley Beal collecting eight.
Gortat had 11 rebounds by halftime, matching the Pacers’ total as a team.
“A lot of it was timing,” West said before pausing. “I don’t know, we didn’t show up to play. I don’t know if we thought were just going to come in here and these guys would roll over. They’re a very good team, a team full of guys with a lot of pride. They just played a different level than we did all night, and it showed up on the glass.”
The Pacers might adjust their strategy leading up to Game 6, especially since George and Stephenson are two of their better rebounders. George averaged 10.7 rebounds in the seven-game series win against Atlanta and Stephenson led the team in rebounding in the regular season at 7.2.
Indiana was the better rebounding team in the regular season, averaging 44.7 to just 42.2. But losing the rebound battle hasn’t exactly hurt the Pacers in this series against Washington. The Wizards held the rebounding edge in Games 1 (53-36), 2 (43-38), 3 (45-42) and 5. The Pacers outrebounded the Wizards, 40-36, in Game 4 but still lead the best-of-seven series three games to two.
The Wizards were able to force Indiana into a difficult shooting night (39 percent) and limited it to just four second-chance points.
“I think it started with our defense for one. I think that fact that we were able to contest a lot of their shots and I think they’re very concerned with our fastbreaks, I think they get back,” Beal said. “Us guards, it’s really important for us to get back in there and help the bigs rebound, because David West and Hibbert are definitely a handful down there to box out. So I think me, Trev, John [Wall] and Martell [Webster], all the guards, we do a great job of coming back and rebounding and it breaks that way.”