Early last week, the Miami Heat pulled off one of the rarest feats in basketball by beating the Minnesota Timberwolves despite losing the rebounding battle by 28 points.
Of the 109 times that has happened, only three teams managed to win with the poor rebounding–the Heat being one of those teams. Miami allowed the likes of Andrei Kirilenko, Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic to own the rim, owning a staggering 53-24 advantage in the rebounding department and an 18-6 edge on the offensive glass. Minnesota ended up outscoring the Heat 31-5 in second-chance points.
At the half, Love had more rebounds than the entire Heat team by a margin of 12-10.
The Heat’s starting power forward and center–Chris Bosh and Udonis Haslem–combined for three rebounds, only one on the defensive glass. Neither player has been impressive on the boards in recent years with Miami. Haslem has lost a great deal of lift since tearing a ligament in his foot back in 2010 and can’t seem to rebound in traffic anymore, while Bosh’s lack of aggression and fundamentals when it comes to grabbing rebounds has limited him to averaging as little as 7.8 boards per which occurred last year.
Naturally, you assumed the Heat were going to run into some trouble against the Utah Jazz. The Jazz were basically the Timberwolves with a larger pituitary gland, sporting four rotation players that have a heavy influence down low; those four being Paul Millsap, Al Jefferson, Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors. Although each player has their flaws, they eat up a lot of space down low and that doesn’t usually bode well for Miami.
And then the Heat suddenly found themselves without Bosh, who came down with the flu.
Uh-oh. This just went from ugly to grotesque, right? The Heat just lost their starting center and one of the few rotation players who can be considered a solid rebounder and presence around the rim. Replacing him would be Haslem–the 6’8″ power forward who has trouble rebounding in traffic–and Shane Battier–a 34-year-old who has never once been considered a rebounding threat in his decade-long career.
It’s funny how things work out sometimes. I know I can’t be the only one who was surprised to see that not only did the Heat beat the Jazz by a substantial margin, but that they also found a way to out-rebound the eighth best rebounding team, and fourth best offensive rebounding team, in the league.
That is correct. The starting frontcourt of Haslem, Battier and LeBron James combined for 21 rebounds, while Utah’s frontcourt of Millsap, Jefferson and Marvin Williams combined for 20. Kanter and Favors combined for only seven rebounds, both struggling against the Heat’s speed, gang-rebounding and pressure put on defending the paint. The athletic freak that is Derrick Favors managed only 10 points on 2-of-8 shooting.
Jefferson and Millsap combined for 17 points on 5-of-17 shooting. Jefferson was held ten points below his usual scoring output, notching only six points on a night where he was stymied by Haslem’s defense. Millsap–the same Paul Millsap that once scored 46 against the Heat–needed nine shots to score 11 points.
Utah did possess an 11-6 advantage on the offensive glass, but it hardly meant much once the Heat opened up the second half with a 13-2 run. The Heat successfully countered the Jazz’ size with their speed and shooting, similar to how they compensated for their lack of size against Oklahoma City’s frontcourt of Kevin Durant, Serge Ibaka, Kendrick Perkins and Nick Collison in the NBA Finals.
Miami shot early and often, finishing 11-of-24 from beyond the arc. Battier converted 4-of-8 from the land of three to lead the Heat, taking advantage of the size of the Jazz and their lack of perimeter defenders. Mike Miller and Ray Allen also converted two of their own, once again making the Jazz pay for sending out a plethora of post players in hopes that their size would demoralize the Heat on the glass.
You want the short answer why the Heat ended up beating the Jazz on the glass?
It’s LeBron James. Isn’t it obvious?
When LeBron puts his mind to rebounding, he can be one of the league’s top rebounders. We all saw it last year against Indiana and Boston in the absence of Bosh, and we saw it against the Thunder when he averaged ten boards per against a big Oklahoma City team. James is just as much a power forward as he is a small forward or a point guard and it shows when he’s hovering near the rim awaiting boards.
Against Utah, LeBron found himself matched up with Paul Millsap on both ends of the floor. The usually astute rebounder–grabbing eight per on the year–ended up having one of his worst performances of the year on the glass, recording only five rebounds. When it came down to it, Millsap’s size was no match for James’ strength AND athleticism.
Go back and watch the clips: LeBron was plain out-jumping Paul for rebounds. If you think about it, there aren’t many, if there are any, power forwards in the league that can match-up with LeBron’s size, speed and athleticism. He ended up with nine rebounds, all coming on the defensive side, because of how small he made Millsap look.
LeBron has been known to make the best of players look like no-name role players. Saturday was no different as James took his talents to the glass and etched his name on it. It’s something he’s been doing a lot of this year. In fact, LeBron is currently leading the Heat in rebounds at 8.5 per game, which would be a career-high for James if the season ended today.
He embraces the responsibility one must assume in order to compensate for the loss of a key player. Just like how we all say, “LeBron could get 40 points a night if he didn’t have a passers mentality”, we’d also say he could be grabbing at least ten boards per if he had the mindset of a Charles Barkley or Dennis Rodman.
Thing is, LeBron dabbles in a little bit of everything and why he is proclaimed the league’s best player without a secondary thought.