>> Face it: when Dick Vitale criticizes your coaching, you’ve made a grievous error.
>> There simply was no reasonable explanation for Frank Vogel’s decision to remove Roy Hibbert for the Pacers’ final two defensive possessions. In the absence of the 7-2 center Vogel repeatedly refers to as “the best rim-protector in the game,” the rim was not protected and thus LeBron James simply had to beat one man, which he easily did both times, including the buzzer-beating game-winner that gave Miami a 103-102 win in Game 1.
>> Vogel said his theory was to go with a smaller, switching lineup to keep the Heat away from the rim because he was concerned Chris Bosh would get an open jumper if Hibbert was in. That’s a bad case of overthinking. When you need a stop, you put your best defensive players on the floor. Are you seriously more worried about Bosh than James (who finished with 30 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists)? Are you seriously more worried about giving up a jumper than a layup with the game on the line?
>> Vitale, who rips coaches about as often as I go the stylist, took to Twitter to vent:
“Please please forget the Bosh popping out 4 a J – u protect the rim – NO EXCUSE HIBBERT SHOULD HAVE BEEN ON THE FLOOR! End of story”
>> Hibbert said he understood why Vogel took him out, but also thought he could’ve denied the game-winner. “It wasn’t like (James) protected the ball to go for a tough layup,” he said, “he just served it up to the rim and I may have been able to get a piece of it.”
>> The good news is Vogel apparently has learned from the mistake. “Obviously, with the way it worked out it would’ve been better to have Roy in the game … we’ll have to evaluate and see what we’re going to do next time but I would probably say we’ll have him in next time,” he said.
>> Thing is, you only have so many next times against a team like Miami.
>> That wasn’t the first major gamble by Vogel, just the most costly. When David West picked up his fourth foul less than two minutes into the second half, Vogel left his power forward – the best player on the court to that point – in the game for nearly five minutes. He got away with it but that was an unnecessary risk at that point. Had West picked up his fifth, the game would’ve been over much, much earlier.
>> Vogel wasn’t alone in making costly mistakes. In fact, he had plenty of company.
>> George Hill played turnstile defense against James on the Heat’s next-to-last possession, surrendering the drive that put Miami up 101-99.
>> After Paul George made what we all thought was the game-winning play, drawing a foul from Dwyane Wade on a 3-point attempt and then sinking all three free throws with 2.2 seconds remaining to put the Pacers in front, 103-102, he then made a huge defensive mistake, over-committing while chasing James to the free-throw line, losing leverage to cut off a drive. “I slipped up,” George said. “I just slipped up at the end.”
>> West missed a wide-open look in the lane and a step-back jumper in the final minutes of regulation. Stephenson clanked an ill-advised 3-pointer with the Pacers up three and in position to make it a two-possession game. Hibbert yielded two offensive rebounds before Bosh dunked for an and-one that tied it at 99-all with 49.7 left in overtime. Just as most of their victories are shared, so was this defeat.
>> What a colossal shame an otherwise magnificent game had to end that way. The Pacers stood toe-to-toe with Miami throughout the night. West was dominant early, scoring 20 of his 26 in the first half. George took it from there, scoring 25 of his 27 after intermission – including 18 of the Pacers’ final 25 points.
>> George made up for a mysterious turnover, throwing the ball to the Pacers’ bench in the closing seconds of regulation, by hitting a long, off-balance 3-pointer with seven-tenths of a second remaining to force overtime. His driving three-point play put the Pacers up 99-96, but then came the Bosh three-point play to set up the wild finish.
>> It’s hard to imagine the Pacers bouncing back comprehensively and quickly from this one for Game 2, though Vogel said “our spirit is very high and very confident.”
>> The quotes from the players didn’t necessarily reflect that. Hibbert said the players “feel horrible.” George said it was the worst playoff loss he’d ever experienced (“ever” being a relative term). “This one might be the toughest one to swallow,” he said. “Talking about having an opportunity to take the first game. Kind of be in the lead of the series. And not being able to do it because of a last possession, that one hurts. It hurts.”
>> Or, as Heat coach Erik Spoelstra put it, “Welcome to the Eastern Conference Finals.” The Pacers need to remember this was just the beginning, or it could turn out to be the beginning of the end.