Frank Vogel blew it.
The Indiana Pacers coach allowed LeBron James an open lane for a last-second layup when he kept his rim-protector, Roy Hibbert, on the bench in the final seconds of a 103-102 Game 1 overtime loss to the Miami Heat.
What could have been a monumental victory for the Pacers to begin the Eastern Conference Finals turned into a dreadful coach's decision that will be heavily scrutinized.
The Pacers led by one with 2.2 seconds left in OT as the ball was inbounded from half court to James, who pivoted quickly on an overplaying Paul George and attacked an unguarded rim for the game-winner.
George shouldn’t have allowed James to catch the ball off the inbound in the first place, but by crowding him without help underneath, the league’s strongest driver finished on what paralleled a pregame layup line.
Without the 7'2" Hibbert in the game, the only help became 6'6" reserve Sam Young, who only could watch as James rose over him to the basket.
And all Hibbert could do was shake his head from the bench.
You take Hibbert out, and you don't help on LeBron vs. Hill. Oof. #HEATvPACERS— John Schuhmann (@johnschuhmann) May 23, 2013
It didn’t just happen once...it happened twice.
Prior to that moment, when the game was tied at 99-99 with 11.4 seconds remaining in overtime and the shot clock down to five seconds, James attacked a naked rim as Hibbert sat on the bench.
James blew by George Hill—who had switched on to James after George was screened—leaving only a matador’s swipe by David West, who was caught in no-man’s land between lightly shading to help on James and watching Chris Bosh on the perimeter.
So, again, why did Vogel not have Hibbert in the game?
Vogel said he felt if Hibbert were in the game, Bosh would have been the first or second option. "It's the dilemma that they present."— Ethan J. Skolnick (@EthanJSkolnick) May 23, 2013
Let’s get this straight: Vogel opted to allow James an easier path to the rim in order to hedge against Bosh's perimeter jumper?
That’s a blown decision.
If it's pick your poison, never opt to test the greatest player in the game. Even if Hibbert was in and came to help on James, thereby leaving Bosh, then assign a rotation that takes away Bosh's open look.
Apologists will swarm to Vogel's defense, but in this instance, it was a coach overthinking and not allowing his best interior defender to do his job. There's absolutely an element of "LeBron is simply too tough to stop anyway," but it's Vogel's job to put his team in the best situation possible. And he did not do that.
There's always a layer of excuses, but the wrong decision was made. That doesn't make Frank Vogel a bad coach; it just means his poor decision, paired with a poor defensive overplay by George, led to the Heat's win.
Vogel: "I would say we'll probably have him in next time."— Ethan J. Skolnick (@EthanJSkolnick) May 23, 2013
George wished Roy Hibbert was on the floor at the end: "Yeah, I think we all would. 100 percent he would've been there."— Tom Haberstroh (@tomhaberstroh) May 23, 2013
At least Vogel is admitting as much.