Indiana Pacers head coach Frank Vogel gestures during the first half of Game 1 in their Eastern Conference finals playoff series against the Miami Heat, Wednesday, May 22, in Miami. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
Up 102-101 after Paul George’s three free throws off a Dwyane Wade foul, the Indiana Pacers – the best defensive team in the NBA this season – were 2.2 seconds away from stealing Game 1 from the defending champion Miami Heat on the road.
Except that 2.2 seconds is too much time for LeBron James.
The reigning MVP shook George’s defense on top of the key, cut back, and received the inbound pass for an uncontested layup to win the game as time expired in overtime.
Yes. The NBA’s best defense gave up an uncontested layup in the game’s most crucial play. But don’t blame their center Roy Hibbert, who has been wrecking havoc in these playoffs while protecting the rim for the Pacers. All he could do was shake his head from the bench as Pacers coach Frank Vogel opted to sit out the big fella for their last two defensive possessions.
The result? Two easy layups for James.
So what gives? Hibbert had a solid game with 19 points, 9 rebounds and 2 blocks and is essentially the biggest reason why the Pacers defense has been so tough to crack. Just ask Carmelo Anthony.
One has to wonder why the Pacers’ best rim protector and highest paid player (signed max contract in the offseason) was left as a spectator in the bench during winning time.
Call me “Frank Boggle” because frankly, Vogel’s move still boggles my mind.
Was it because of the matchups? Were they afraid to give up a jump shot to Chris Bosh on Hibbert? Was it because of the previous offensive rebound Hibbert had given up to Bosh that tied the game?
For the record, Vogel said during the post-game press conference that he felt the Heat would’ve made Bosh as the first or second option if he left Hibbert in the game. Bosh had scored on Hibbert on the drive a couple of times in the game.
In short, Vogel was guessing on the matchup, and chose to plug in Sam Young over Hibbert. Young, who was matched up with Wade, could only helplessly watch James lay up the game-winner.
Vogel guessed wrong. Twice.
As if James didn’t make the previous possession look easy enough when he drove down the heart of the Pacers defense to put the Heat up by two prior to George’s freebies.
“I think we all would. He does an amazing job protecting the rim. 100 percent he would be in there,” George, who also scored the long 3-pointer to send the game to overtime, said when asked if he would’ve wanted Hibbert in the game during the last two possessions in question.
Not to take credit where it’s due, James made a great play and had a sensational game with a triple-double (30 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists), and prior to George’s fortuitous plays, the Pacers were doing everything they could to give the game away as well with their turnovers and questionable decisions down the stretch.
The Pacers played a heck of a game, but did not deserve to win. Vogel’s blunder and James unwillingness to lose simply helped assure that the Pacers didn’t pull out a miracle.
Asked what he thought about leaving Hibbert out of the game, Vogel responded: “I would say we’ll probably have him in next time.”
If you ask me, you got to go with the people that have gotten you where you are. Hibbert has been a big reason why the Pacers are in the Eastern Conference Finals. You live and die with him, or at least die with him first before you second guess and leave him out of the game. Let Bosh nail a jumper or work on Hibbert. I’ll take my chances on my franchise big man. Vogel’s move was a disservice to Hibbert’s hard work and effort all playoff long, and the Pacers paid dearly for it.
Follow Dennis on Twitter @dRealSource.