On Sunday, the Indiana Pacers lost their fourth game of the season to the Philadelphia 76ers 126-137. While there were plenty of factors that led to the loss, like Joel Embiid's 37 points, Tyrese Maxey's 50 points, or Myles Turner's first-half struggles, the main problem was one the Pacers have been dealing with for the majority of the young NBA season: Rebounding.
Before we get into the 76ers game, let's dive into Indiana's rebounding breakdown throughout the season so far.
Currently, the Indiana Pacers are averaging 9.8 offensive rebounds per game, which ranks 22nd in the league, and 32.2 defensive rebounds, good for 24th in the league. Combined for total rebounds, they rank 24th in the league.
For a team that's currently the third seed in the East with a record of 6-4 and thriving off the best offense in the league, this isn't a great sign, as when that offense inevitably declines, there isn't much else the Pacers can hang their hats on.
Sure enough, out of the four offensive factors, while the Pacers effective field goal percentage is great and they rarely turn the ball over, the same cannot be said about their offensive rebounding percentage of 29.2%, which ranks middle of the pack, and even less can be said about their defensive rebounding percentage of 68.5%, which ranks 25th in the league.
This is awful for a team with such a good offense and leaves the Pacers with a total rebounding percentage of 49%, which ranks 20th in the league.
In addition to this, while the Pacers are eighth in the league in second-chance points with 15.9 per game, they give up 17.2 themselves, which unfortunately puts them at 28th in the league.
Let's go game-by-game basis to show the rebounding issue further. In the 10 games the Pacers have played, they are 2-1 when they out-offensive rebound their opponents, 5-1 when they out-defensive rebound their opponents, and 3-1 when they out-rebound their opponents in general.
The Pacers have been out-offensive rebounded seven out of 10 games, out-defensive rebounded in four out of 10 games, and out-rebounded in general six out of 10 games. The most extreme case was the Celtics blowout, where the Pacers were out-rebounded in every aspect.
They grabbed eight offensive rebounds to Boston's 11 and 23 defensive rebounds, which were doubled by Boston's 46. As a result, Indiana lost the rebound battle by a wide margin, 31-57.
However, the most egregious example of the rebounding issue came in the Pacers' most recent game against the 76ers. In this game, despite Indiana only losing by 11, they were almost tripled on the offensive boards, grabbing a mere eight rebounds in comparison to Philly's 23.
Indiana was also outdone on the defensive boards, grabbing 24 compared to Philly's 31, and as a result, were outrebounded as a whole 32 to 54. Three Sixers players finished with seven or more rebounds, with Joel Embiid leading the way with 13, while Indiana's leading rebounder, Jalen Smith, finished with five on the night.
That's right, five rebounds.
In addition to the raw stats, Indiana's offensive rebounding percentage of 25% was more than doubled by Philadelphia's 52.8%, while their defensive rebounding percentage of 47.2% was also dwarfed by the Sixers, who finished with a mammoth 75%, meaning they snatched up 75% of all potential defensive rebounds. Indy's total rebounding percentage of 37.1% was outdone by Philly's 62.9%.
The proof doesn't just lie in the stats. Watching the game, there were plenty of opportunities where the Pacers could have easily generated a few extra posessions if they grabbed defensive rebounds. Many of Joel Embiid's 14 misses from the field were quickly picked up by other Sixers and either put back up for easy points or kicked out to the open man for a three, which the Sixers hit 42.4% of.
Overall, the Pacers loss was not mainly because of Embiid's first-half explosion or Maxey's 50-point barrage. Indiana had plenty of chances to tie or take the lead and only did so once, getting a one-point lead that was quickly taken out of their hands as Philly took over the game again.
The main reason for the loss was by far their rebounding, as the Pacers could easily be sitting at 7-3 if they just knew how to rebound the ball, and might even be holding a 9-1 record right now if they rebounded in the past few games.
There is a potential fix for this.
Undrafted center and college basketball sensation Oscar Tshiebwe was recently in the news for his G-League debut with the Indiana Mad Ants, where he put up a very impressive 33 points and a whopping 23 rebounds, 13 of them being offensive.
Tshiebwe was known for his rebounding prowess and inside game in Kentucky, so it's no surprise that he's showcasing it here, but the fact that he grabbed over 20 rebounds (13 offensive) in his first G-League game is still something to marvel at.
If Tshiebwe's offense develops a bit more, and he builds a legit NBA-level inside game, the Pacers could potentially call him up for some extra rebounding help as soon as possible.
After all, Tshiebwe is a big body that is not easily pushed around and can muscle his way to some key rebounds if needed in the clutch. Perhaps fans are getting excited too early on the still very raw Tshiebwe, but you never know.
Indiana has developed raw prospects recently so it's not a stretch for them to take a 6-foot-8 big man with NBA-level physical tools and strength and groom him to be a backup big man to bring out when rebounds and tough, physical play are needed.
Whether they go for the Tshiebwe experiment or not, one thing is for certain, the Pacers need help on the boards. How they get that help is anyone's guess. Maybe the key is to play Jarace Walker more, maybe Daniel Theis needs some more run, maybe Isaiah Jackson. Either way, fans will be looking for Indiana to hopefully make this problem less evident by Tuesday's rematch with Philly under the bright lights of the NBA In-Season Tournament.