It’s not Frank Vogel’s fault.
Alot of blame being thrown his way for the decision to leave Roy Hibbert on the bench for the last play. How could you leave your shot blocker, your rim protector, your proverbial last line of defense out of the game with 2.2 seconds to go and a one point lead?
Wrong question to be asking, I say.
I’ve got a better one, or three. How on earth can you, while defending the world’s greatest player with two seconds left in a game you are winning, do anything other than just try to stay in front of him and force him to shoot over your outstretched hands? How can you overplay said player, thus affording him a running start and worse, a free drive to the rim? How can you let game 1 of the Eastern Conference Playoffs end on an uncontested layup, for fucks sake?
It’s fine to lament the Pacers’ game-losing gaffe, let’s just put them blame where it belongs. Whether or not you buy Frank Vogel’s assertion that he took Hibbert out because he can’t guard Chris Bosh on the perimeter (I do, for the record) it should be noted that Hibbert wouldn’t have been needed to protect the rim had George not committed a first-year-of-organized-basketball level defensive blunder.
Look, there’s no complicated video breakdown or analysis needed to explain what happened here. Honestly, I’m not sure even George himself could tell you what he was doing. The guy just looked lost the most crucial moment in the game, and for that sin his team pays the price of a game 1 victory and home court advantage.
All that said this was one helluva game, and likely the first in many of a series that looks to be a pretty even match. If Indiana is going to come up short here, it’ll likely be as a result of the kind of inexperience they showed on the last possession tuesday night. Of all the advantages a team can have in this game, experience is chief among them, especially at this level. Often times, the only way to get it is the hard way, and a quick scan of past NBA champions reveals a long list of players who had to be knocked on their ass once or twice before they could claim that ultimate prize, from Michael Jordan to Isiah Thomas to LeBron James himself. Even if the lesson Paul George learned last night won’t help him this year, it will in the future and that’s better than nothing.
That’s a point not worth losing here. George is 23 years old and in just his third season and already he’s grown into an all-star and more impressively, one of the league’s elite defenders at an age where even the greatest players (LeBron and Michael Jordan among them) had yet to take an interest in anything but the offensive side of the ball. On a night where George looked at times flustered and tentative, he took and made almost all of the big shots down the stretch, and in Basketball, just having the guts to do that much says nothing but goods things about any player, much less one who is even 25 years old. Yes, his error cost Indiana game 1, but that’s the NBA learning curve in action, and I certainly wouldn’t bet against George redeeming himself sooner or later, possibly in this series.
Oh, and somewhere lost in all this talk about Roy Hibbert’s benching and George’s miracle 30 footer and Wade’s “did he or didn’t he” foul is the fact that the almighty, thought to be impervious Heat, an 8 point favorite in this game and a 10-1 favorite to win the series, needed a minor miracle to steal game 1…on their home court. Yesterday I wrote about how it would be folly to assume Miami is going to cruise to the Title and while it’s too early to claim vindication, I would say I find it rather curious that the general reaction seems to be “Indiana is done” instead of “wow, these teams look pretty evenly matched”.
Beauty of it is, we’re just getting started. -JH