The Indiana Pacers nearly won Game 1 of their Eastern Conference Finals matchup with the Miami Heat, and it literally came down to the wire. But while the talk is focused on the amazingness of LeBron James, the fact of the matter remains many people believe Frank Vogel opened up the lane for LeBron to drive home the winning basket by committing a crucial error in his strategy.
Where Pacers fans — and non-Heat fans– take issue with Vogel is the fact that he benched center Roy Hibbert on two absolutely dire possessions for the Heat and both times Miami scored go ahead buckets. The first came when Hibbert was benched with around 0:20 seconds left in overtime and the Heat were able to use his absence to take a two point lead.
The most critical error and the one Vogel’s getting ripped to shreds over, is when he left Hibbert off the court with 2.2 seconds left in the game and put Paul George in LeBron James’ lane to the basket. George over-committed and opened a huge hole for LeBron to waltz to the basket and drop in the winning bucket with ease.
Vogel’s mainly getting blasted because he himself said that Hibbert is the best rim defender in the NBA, yet when he needed the rim defended Hibbert was nowhere to be found on the hardwood.
So you can see where the frsutration is coming from, but the ultimate question is should Vogel have benched Hibbert or was the right move made?
On the surface –or in other words in hindsight– not having Hibbert on the court was an egregious mistake and makes it seem like Indiana either wanted to lose or suffered a massive brain fart. It wouldn’t have been the first of the night as Paul George nearly lost the game for Indiana when he tried to pass the ball to a player sitting on the bench.
But the truth of the matter is Vogel was making the right call, as it’s only in hindsight that having Hibbert on the court would have helped the Pacers win. Obviously it wouldn’t have hurt to simply have him out there but had Hibbert been out there and the Heat still won, we’d be talking about how the Pacers failed to position themselves well enough to defend the Heat.
In essence, there’s no winning in this argument, there’s only logic. What that logic suggests is if Hibbert had been on the court for the final possession of the game, he’d have been defending Chris Bosh. The way the play ended up playing out, Bosh was nowhere near the bucket or LeBron when the play was made and 2.2 seconds is not enough time for Roy Hibbert to be effective on that play the way it turned out. Bosh was just arriving at the bucket when LeBron drove it home, meaning Hibbert would have been an after thought.
Of course, having him on the court alters how things actually happened, so it’s very easy for someone to argue that had Hibbert been on the court, maybe the Heat end up running a different play.
The bottom line though is regardless of how the play could have turned out, the Pacers had to have known that with Dwyane Wade fouled out, the ball was without a doubt going to end up in LeBron James’ hands. Even if LeBron hadn’t have taken the final shot, Bosh would have been a serious option which means Hibbert would have been needed on the floor.
It’s a play that will be analyzed and scrutinized for weeks, but the play turned out the only way it could have and as is the case in all sports, the answer always seems so much easier to grasp in hindsight.