One play is all it took to wipe out four quarters and nearly an entire overtime period that featured some of the most exciting basketball the NBA has seen in these playoffs.
Paul George, Indiana’s up-and-coming star, displayed flashes of brilliance on defense against the world’s best player in LeBron James. George, just 23, also forced the eventual overtime period with a deep three-pointer off a broken play, then calmly sank three free-throws after being fouled by Dwyane Wade to give the Pacers a momentary lead. The Pacers were 2.2 seconds away from snatching home-court advantage and taking a 1-0 lead.
But James, who racked up a triple-double in true “LeBron being LeBron” fashion, quickly erased that thought with a game-winning lay-up. It wasn’t just the fact that James’ clincher grasped victory for the Heat, but more of how the Pacers and head coach Frank Vogel chose to defend that final possession and how it immediately made us forget the other events that took place in the game.
So who’s to blame?
Roy Hibbert/Chris Bosh Dilemma
Hibbert is the central force behind Indiana’s top-ranked defense. Their perimeter defenders funnel all actions inside to him and he’s the biggest reason why teams struggle to score in the paint against the Pacers. However, in late game, last second situations this season, Vogel has chosen to take Hibbert off the floor so the Pacers are more suited to stick with shooters running off screens. Vogel did the same thing in Indiana’s previous series with the New York Knicks.
Miami’s Chris Bosh is a major reason why Hibbert comes off the floor in these scenarios. His ability to stretch the floor and simultaneously play the five for the Heat would force Hibbert out of the paint in final possession plays. At least that’s how Vogel sees it, so he chooses to go with wings with more lateral quickness than the 7’2” Hibbert and switches every screen on these types of plays.
While I personally don’t agree with that strategy, and it seems like Vogel will choose to play Hibbert on these plays moving forward, judging by his post-game press conference, I understand his initial thought process. But I would much rather live with Bosh shooting a three-pointer or long jump-shot over a James look at the rim.
George’s defense was outstanding for portions of the game, especially at times on James who is almost impossible to defend at a high level individually. However, I’m sure he would like to have that final possession back more than any other Pacer on the floor at that time.
As you can see here, George overplays the in-bounds pass to James. Whether he was attempting to steal the pass or just try to take space away from James as quickly as possible, he put himself out of position to properly defend James. LeBron is difficult enough to defend straight up, but when you get to the side of him and give him a head start with your momentum going in the opposite direction, you won’t stand a chance.
Sam Young’s Late Rotation
Finally, Sam Young switching off onto Bosh left him as the only weak side defender on the play. As soon as he saw James had the in-bounds pass, his next move should be to relocate off of Bosh and get to the paint. The goal there is to affect James’ drive to some extent, whether that’s an attempt at drawing a charge, contesting the shot or getting there to make James think twice. Since there’s only 2.2 seconds left in the game, there shouldn’t be any worry about a pass off to Bosh for a short jumper as that would push Miami’s chances of getting a shot off before the buzzer sounds.
In the end, this is just one play in a game that featured countless actions that could’ve changed the outcome of the game. But, as you will see by the reaction around the sports world over the next few days, it’s the possession that will receive the most spotlight. The blame, though, should be handed out collectively.
Brandon Curry is an NBA writer for Rant Sports. Follow Brandon on Twitter @ByBrandonCurry