First off, the thing that seems to be getting the most press, was Frank Vogel’s decision not to put Roy Hibbert out there for the last possession.* And, yes, I do think it was a mistake, but it’s not as if Vogel just pointed at the first five guys he saw and rolled with it. He might have out-though himself, but there was reasoning there. The Heat had a small line up with the Pacers wanting to switch everything, Frank didn’t want Hibbert to get stuck in a bad matchup. He also didn’t want to play zone because the Pacers have done it exactly zero times this year.** So he went with a smaller group, and he got burned.
*Or the possession before that, which I tweeted at the time I didn’t think was a great idea.
**I think I said before that Purdue fans really ought to be embracing the hell out of this Pacer team.
We’ll break this down as to why this was a mistake before they ever threw the ball in, but let me be clear about this first. The breakdown was on Paul George, no matter what. He’s stepped up and taken responsibility. He’ll be the first to admit his footwork was awful there, letting himself get into an unrecoverable position and overplayed the pass. It’s hard to blame him, because everybody in America knew that pass was going to LeBron James in that situation. It would be awfully tempting to jump that passing lane. But you just can’t do it in that situation. There’s too little time to worry about getting a steal and, obviously, too great a risk if you don’t deflect the ball. I’m sure you won’t see PG making that mistake again.
Anyway, back to all the very simple reasons why Vogel should have had Hibbert out on the floor. Most of this comes back to there were only 2.2 seconds left on the clock. That isn’t a lot of time. You know the Heat are going to give the ball to James if it’s at all possible. Then he’s only got two ticks to try to score. That’s not enough time to pass the ball unless he does right away. And he wouldn’t right away. First priority was trying to get his own shot, which means there was never going to be enough time to pass. Thanks to that, you didn’t really have to play a true zone. Have Hibbert sort of play whoever was closest to the rim, but essentially, he’s playing what’s known in disc as monster. To put it simply, he’s not playing a person, he’s just patrolling his area and swatting away whatever and whoever gets in the way. Normally you would be concerned about a three second call doing that in the NBA, but again, there were only two seconds left. There wasn’t time for an illegal defense. You were also in overtime. There was no reason to try to protect Roy from his sixth foul at that point. You have the best rim defender in all of basketball on your team. Something easy at the rim was exactly what you want to prevent. Basically, there was every reason to leave Hibbert out there and only convoluted reasons to leave him out.
Now, I’ve said here before that I think Frank Vogel should have won coach of the year, and there is honestly no other coach I would rather have at any level. I think he will generally coach circles around Eric Spolestra and be a big reasons why the Pacers still can (will?) pull this series out. But that wasn’t his best moment, and I’m sure he would do it different should it come up again. Again, hopefully it wouldn’t matter because George wouldn’t let LeBron waltz his way to the rim, but Hibbert is an awfully nice security blanket.
Secondly, the Pacers did most of what they wanted with their initial defense. Besides that little dump-off play which led to way too many points for the Birdman, the Pacers turned the Heat (and LeBron in particular) into a jump shooting team. That’s what they want against any team, take contested midrange jumpers or threes. Yeah, James hit a lot of those early jumpers, but he’s not nearly a consistent enough shooter for Miami to rely on that. The problem came when the Heat inevitably started missing those shots. The Pacers would just kind of stand around looking at each other and the ball trying to decide who should grab it. While they had this wordless debate, somebody from the Heat scooped up the rebound and usually got an uncontested jumper or lay up. It was a very uncharacteristic lack of hustle and defensive organization, and one that I fully expect to be fixed for game two and beyond.
The last one is turnovers. Unfortunately, we’re just going to have to decide this Pacer team is more than a little turnover prone. Still, there were some particularly bad turnovers that seemed to be caused by jitters or self-imposed pressure. You know this team wants this series in the worst kind of way, as does its fans. And the team knows this is just as important to the fans as it is to them. Pressure is good to a point, but it’s easy to go overboard. And that undue pressure looks a lot like passes to the bench or passing to a spot after a guy has already cut away from that particular spot, which the Pacers did more than once. There will still be turnovers, especially if George Hill has another iffy game, but hopefully the bad turnovers will stop.
Is LeBron going to get his? Yes. Is the pressure of guarding LeBron going to slow down PG’s offense? Most likely, though Paul looked awfully good late in game one.* This is not going to be a lock either way, but if the Pacers can clean things up a bit, they can still steal one in Miami. And if you defend your home floor, which the Pacers have been aces at all year and even better in the playoffs, that’s all you need.
*That doesn’t change that this team could really use Danny Granger to push LeBron around a bit and let George guard Dwyane Wade.
In unrelated news, the 500 is this weekend, folks. With the Pacers still in a dogfight this year, I haven’t paid as much attention as I usually do to the lead up. I don’t know the last time a pole sitter won the race, but boy, it would be awfully nice if Ed Carpenter could make this happen. He’s got my support. If not him, I guess I’d go with Marco Andretti. The Andrettis can’t be that snake bit, surely they’ve got to win at least one more at some point, right?