Hindsight is always a coach’s worst nightmare.
In the Miami Heat’s 103-102 overtime victory Wednesday night, Frank Vogel made a split-second decision that, upon reflection, may have altered not just the outcome to this game, but of the series as well.
Up by one—thanks to three clutch free throws by Paul George—the Pacers simply needed to play two seconds of solid defense to steal Game 1 and home-court advantage away from the Heat.
They chose a bad time to do their best Moses interpretation and part the court for LeBron James, only, you know, the best player on the planet.
It’s one thing to have James beat you; the best players at times can’t be contained. It’s another thing to simply give him the game.
The defense by George was bad, we know that. He took the wrong angle, giving James the inside of the court. He should have made James inbound the ball behind the three-point line, making James beat him with a contested three.
Instead he allowed James a lane to the basket.
Enter Frank Vogel.
Chris Bosh is a great basketball player, there is no denying that. But he’s not James. You don’t set up your defense to stop Bosh. You set it up to stop James.
Vogel chose to stop Bosh. He took his 7’2” behemoth Roy Hibbert out of the game because he did not feel that Hibbert could close out on Bosh in the event of a drive-and-kick.
The result was no shot-blocking presence upon James’ arrival at the rim.
Would Hibbert have blocked the shot, giving James the Carmelo Anthony treatment? There’s no way of knowing that. But with him planted on the bench, the possibility of a contest wasn’t even an option.
Speaking after the game, Hibbert stated his frustration on riding the pine at such a crucial point in the game, via Brian Windhorst of ESPN:
"I think as I get older, I may have to [ask to stay in]," Hibbert said. "I didn't, and in hindsight I wish I did because LeBron's layup was one I think I could've [blocked], because he served it up."
There’s that pesky hindsight word again.
"I trust coach's judgment," Hibbert said. "Somebody should've been there to contest the shot, you can't let the best player in the league roll to the basket."
Literally, if Hibbert is standing where Young is at the end of that play, LeBron has to alter his shot at least a bit.— Zach Lowe (@ZachLowe_NBA) May 23, 2013
Hibbert, just like all of the Twittersphere it seems, understood his importance at that juncture in the game. Someone had to be between James and the basket.
No, Manti Te’o’s girlfriend doesn’t count.
Crucial meltdowns like this are what separate contenders from champions.
"I would say we'll probably have him in next time," Vogel said.
Yes, it’s a long, seven-game series. But the Golden State Warriors are the prime example of the importance of bringing home a winnable game one on the road.
Taking at least one of the first two games is a necessity for any underdog team. The Indiana Pacers may not have such a golden opportunity in Game 2.