Playoffs 2021

Stat Just Happened: Troubling trend emerging for Atlanta Hawks in series with Milwaukee Bucks

"Stat Just Happened" is our new series where we'll pair an important stat with how it actually unfolded on the floor. Our aim? To answer key questions, uncover hidden truths and peel back the curtain on why some numbers matter more than others.

39.6

According to NBA.com, that was Milwaukee's offensive rebounding percentage in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals.

Why is that notable? A couple of reasons.

One, it's a pretty ridiculous rate. In the regular season, the Bucks pulled down just over a quarter (26.9 percent) of available offensive rebounds, ranking them 13th in the league. The team that led the way was the New Orleans Pelicans, who grabbed nearly a third (30.2 percent) of available offensive rebounds.

We're talking about a single game here, but the way the Bucks controlled the offensive glass in Game 3 wasn't exactly normal.

Second and more importantly for this series, this is becoming a trend between the Bucks and Hawks.

Put it this way: Milwaukee has posted a 37.0 offensive rebounding percentage in a total of six games this season, regular season and playoffs combined. Want to guess how many times it has come against the Hawks? Three, once in the regular season and now twice in the playoffs.

Not only that, but the Hawks are the only team to show up more than once on that list.

Milwaukee Bucks offensive rebounding percentage (2020-21)
Opponent Date OREB%
Atlanta Hawks 1/24/2021 47.7
Sacramento Kings 2/21/2021 40.0
Miami Heat (Game 2)* 5/24/2021 44.9
Brooklyn Nets (Game 7)* 6/19/2021 37.9
Atlanta Hawks (Game 2)* 6/25/2021 38.8
Atlanta Hawks (Game 3)* 6/27/2021 39.6

Now, statistics like offensive rebounding rate can be tricky, because it accounts for plays like this...

...and this...

...neither of which feel like a real offensive rebound. And yet, attacking the offensive glass has clearly been a point of emphasis for the Bucks in this series. Again, the Bucks weren't even an elite elite offensive rebounding team in the regular season, but their size makes them incredibly difficult to match up with off of misses.

It starts with Giannis Antetokounmpo, who is one of the hardest players to guard because of his combination of size, speed and athleticism. Clint Capela is the only player on the Hawks who has a real shot of matching up with him physically - there's a reason he's guarded the two-time MVP almost five times more than anyone else on Atlanta's roster - but you can see the trickle-down effect it has on possessions like this:

With Capela guarding Antetokounmpo, Kevin Huerter is on Khris Middleton, Bogdan Bogdanovic is on Bryn Forbes, Danilo Gallinari is on Pat Connaughton and Lou Williams is on ... Brook Lopez. (The Hawks do have another big they can go to in John Collins, but he was in foul trouble all game long). Lopez mucks up the spacing a little for Antetokounmpo when he cuts to the basket, but knowing he has 11 inches and over 100 pounds on Williams, he wisely parks himself underneath the basket.

The result?

Even without Lopez on the court, the Hawks had a tough time keeping the Bucks off the boards in Game 3.

The back-breakers came in the second half, starting with his offensive rebound from Connaughton in the third quarter that led to a 3-pointer from Bobby Portis that snapped a 5-0 run from the Hawks.

(Notice who was guarding Connaughton? That's one way to keep Trae Young engaged defensively or make him pay for not being engaged).

The Bucks got another offensive rebound a few minutes later, this time off of a miss from Forbes in transition.

Connaughton then came up with another offensive rebound in the opening seconds of the fourth quarter, leading to three of the 20 points Middleton scored in the frame.

Last but not least, P.J. Tucker rebounded a miss from Middleton with 4:36 to go in the game, eventually leading to a basket from Antetokounmpo that put the Bucks ahead by five points.

It helps that the Bucks are relentless when it comes to pursuing their own misses. It's one thing to give offensive rebounds up to Antetokounmpo and Lopez, but Tucker, Connaughton and Holiday were responsible for eight of the 15 offensive rebounds the Bucks recorded in Game 3. Keeping them off the glass isn't about boxing out one or two individuals. The Bucks almost always have at least three good offensive rebounders - for their respective positions, at least - on the court at all times.

Of course, the risk of crashing the glass as aggressively as the Bucks did in Game 3 is that it opens the door for the Hawks to get out in transition, among other things, but the risk was quite clearly worth the reward.

The proof is in that one key number that is starting to come quite familar to the Hawks...

39.6

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