McMillan Gets His Point Across: Rebound

Nate McMillan's gimmicky scoring system in the Pacers' training camp scrimmages was a cruel way to get a point across. But it helped get some rebounds across.

An offensive rebound counted three points for the offense and deducted three points from the defense. Corner 3-pointers, meanwhile, were worth four points. Grabbing an offensive rebound and kicking it out to a shooter for a corner 3-pointer would be worth 10 points in all for the scoring team.

"The second team's been kicking our butt," starter Thaddeus Young was saying after the Pacers opened their season with a 111-83 victory over Memphis on Wednesday.

"They've got Domas."

That would be Domantas Sabonis, the wrecking ball who can wreak havoc with anyone's box score. The Pacers' backup center grabbed 15 rebounds, six of them on the offensive glass against the Grizzlies, who can only be grateful the NBA didn't let McMillan institute his scoring system for the game. As it was, the 28-point margin of victory was the largest in a season-opener in the Pacers' franchise NBA history.

Sabonis was the most obvious rebounder, but hardly worked alone in the paint. The Pacers' outrebounded Memphis 57-28, the largest margin by a Pacers' team since 2003. But how? They have the same starting lineup and two rotation players back from last season when they were outrebounded by an average of 0.7 per game, a number that doesn't sound like much but adds up significantly over the course of the season. Six-tenths of that deficit came on the offensive glass.

What changed was McMillan's training camp emphasis. He delivered a Day One goal of finishing among the NBA's top ten rebounding teams, which would be a startling improvement for a team that was in the bottom fourth of that category last season. Every drill in camp ended with a rebound, and every scrimmage placed a greater premium on rebounding than scoring.

"If we didn't rebound we lost, simple as that," Victor Oladipo said. "We were losing points for everything, goodness gracious. But especially rebounding. It's going to help us throughout the year."

If the Pacers attack missed shots with the same ferocity as they did on Wednesday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, they're going to be trouble for a lot of teams. Scoring will not be much of a problem, and they have enough balance and depth to weather poor shooting nights by the leading scorers and injuries.

Thaddeus Young

Photo Credit: NBAE/Getty Images

Consider that Oladipo, the lone player on the roster to have played in an NBA All-Star Game, barely drew attention to himself with 16 points, five rebounds, and five assists. Seven players scored in double figures, led by Bojan Bogdanovic's 19 points, and four of those players came off the bench. One of the new players, Tyreke Evans, turned heads with 14 points, six assists, and one turnover and made the kind of instinctive plays in traffic that can't be taught. Another one, Doug McDermott, scored 12 points.

The Pacers committed 20 turnovers and only shot well from the 3-point line in the third quarter, but still flourished offensively. Their defense allowed Memphis to hit just 29.8 percent of its shots, the first time an opponent has shot under 30 percent since Feb. 8, 2006, when Portland shot 26.7 percent. All those missed shots created plenty of rebound opportunities, which created transition opportunities, which resulted in the Pacers outscoring Memphis 60-16 in the paint and 20-6 off fastbreaks.

"It's just a mentality and a team effort," Sabonis said. "Everybody has to block out everybody."

Starting center Myles Turner was a key figure in the block party. He grabbed eight rebounds in 20 ½ minutes and was noticeably more physical, not only in going after rebounds but in defending Memphis center Marc Gasol in the low post.
McMillan wants Turner's priority this season to be on defense, and Turner's play reflected that. He blocked four shots and only attempted eight himself, hitting half of them.

His stat line didn't impress as much as last season's opener, when he had 21 points and 14 rebounds against Brooklyn, or the opener two years ago when he had 30 points and 16 rebounds against Dallas, but he contributed nearly as much to the victory as in those two games given his playing time.

"It's just effort," he said. "I know I've gotten stronger, but you can be strong as an ox but you've got to go out there and execute it, too.

"Rebounding's a mentality. Some people call it a skill, but I think it's a mentality."

The Pacers, to their credit, freely offered perspective in the winning locker room. They're all aware of the long-term significance of any one game out of 82. They didn't say it, but they also know Memphis isn't regarded as a league power.

Pacers teams have now won three consecutive home openers and eight of their last nine. Most of the other victories were uplifting as well, and inspired plenty of optimism. Sometimes it was well-founded, sometimes not.

Last season, the Pacers defeated Brooklyn in the home opener, 140-131. Two years ago they defeated Dallas in overtime, 130-121. This game offered fewer fireworks than those two, but more substance. Better shot selection, better defense and, especially, better rebounding.

"It's just the first game, so we can't jump to conclusions," Oladipo said. "But we can be very special."

Ultimately, they'll finish about as high as their rebounding allows them. The rest will take care of itself.

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Mark Montieth's book on the formation and groundbreaking seasons of the Pacers, "Reborn: The Pacers and the Return of Pro Basketball to Indianapolis," is available in bookstores throughout Indiana and on Amazon.com.

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