The Heat came away with the 103-102 overtime victory over the Pacers in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals, thanks to a triple-double performance from LeBron James, which included hitting the game-winning layup as time expired.
The words “game-winning layup” should never be a relevant phrase this deep into the postseason; teams normally defend the rim at all costs, especially in late-game situations. But Pacers head coach Frank Vogel made a curious decision not to do so, and it may have been among the main reasons that his team was unable to prevent James from scoring so easily on that final possession.
Vogel made a decision not once, but twice near the end of overtime to bench his biggest and best interior defender in Roy Hibbert to match up with the Heat’s smaller lineup.
With just over 10 seconds remaining, James was able to get a switch on a screen, trading Paul George for George Hill defensively. Against the smaller defender, James was able to blow by him and get to the rim for an uncontested layup.
In that situation, with still a couple of possessions remaining in the game and with Hibbert saddled with five fouls, maybe Vogel’s decision is a bit more understandable. But after seeing the disastrous results, it’s tough to justify making the same mistake twice, and doing so on the game’s final possession.
George had hit three free throws with 2.2 seconds remaining after being fouled on a three-point attempt from Dwyane Wade, which gave the Pacers a one-point lead. Once again, Vogel had Hibbert placed firmly on the bench, and as soon as James received the inbounds pass, he sprinted past George to his left to get the uncontested shot at the rim to go as time expired.
Vogel was asked about his decision as soon as his postgame press conference began, and said that the lineup the Heat had on the floor dictated his response.
“That’s the dilemma they present when they have Chris Bosh at the five spot and his ability to space the floor,” Vogel said. “We put a switching lineup in with the intent to switch, keep everything in front of us and try to go into or force a challenged jumpshot. We pushed up a little bit too much, LeBron was able to beat us off the bounce.”
It’s true that George was out of position defensively, and that was the reason James was able to have such a wide open lane to the basket. But with Hibbert there, it’s possible James might have had his shot altered (or, at the very least, contested), and he may have even been forced to get the ball to someone else.
Vogel explained in further detail what he was trying to accomplish.
“They’re hurting us on the small pick‑and‑rolls where we’re trying to blitz and get back,” he said. “So you have a couple of alternatives. The intent is to try to switch and just, you know, hope that a point guard can keep him in front of us, and both situations we just pushed up on him a little bit too much, and he was able to beat us off the bounce.”
But still — why no Hibbert?
“We expected [Chris Bosh] to be a spacing option,” Vogel said. “If Roy were in the game, he probably would have been first or second option, if it didn’t come to LeBron, if LeBron could one‑bounce, draw Roy to the rim and have Bosh spot it up.
“So it’s the dilemma that they present. Obviously, with the way it worked out, you know, it would have been better to have Roy in the game. But you don’t know. If that happens, maybe Bosh is making the jumpshot, and we’re all talking about that.”
Maybe. But any way you look at it, a wide-open jumpshot is a far lower percentage play than an uncontested shot at the rim will ever be. Which is why if Vogel gets another chance, he’s likely to change his philosophy.
“We’ll have to evaluate and see what we’ll do the next time,” Vogel said. “I would say we’ll probably have him in next time.”