Philadelphia, PA – On Thursday morning, everyone with a basketball opinion stated it about Indiana Pacers head coach Frank Vogel's decision to keep center Roy Hibbert on the bench during the closing sequence of the Miami Heat's Game 1 victory in the Eastern Conference Finals.
LeBron James cruised to the hoop for an uncontested layup to win the game as time expired. Hibbert was in a chair watching, despite being third in the postseason in blocked shots and finishing fourth during the regular season.
Let's examine every possible scenario, or explanation about whether Hibbert should or should not have been in the game.
First, we know the result with Hibbert not on the floor and it wasn't good for Indiana.
Let's be clear about one thing - the fault lies on Paul George's shoulders. He overplayed James, let him get the ball in a position to sky in for a layup. That's not on Vogel. George was on the All-Defensive second team and should know better that he had to put James in a position to shoot a jump shot.
"I was up too close on him. You have to make him shoot a jumper," George said. "That's what we wanted. We wanted LeBron to shoot a jumper right there."
But why Hibbert wasn't on the floor to protect the rim?
"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 jump shot."
That didn't happen.
Nor did it happen on Miami's possession prior. James went by for an uncontested layup with 10 seconds on the clock. Where was Hibbert in that scenario? And please, no mention of the fact Hibbert had five fouls. Defending his absence based on the potential to foul out with 10 seconds left in overtime of the Eastern Conference Finals is Courtney Love levels of crazy.
But, back to the final play and how it broke down.
After all of the cuts, Bosh was stationed in the corner down the line from in- bounder Shane Battier. Bosh was deep in the corner and if Hibbert was covering him, Hibbert would've been far away from the basket, thus negating any chance of impeding James' progress.
But what if Hibbert wasn't covering Bosh that deep. What if Vogel decided to just keep Hibbert underneath the basket. He couldn't have gotten a defensive three-second call since there was only 2.2 seconds on the clock.
That would've required no one bothering Battier, the in-bounder. David West presumably could've manned up Bosh with Battier getting an open look at the play unfolding. That's not a great situation, either, but again, better than what actually transpired.
Remember this too, the Heat were out of timeouts. Indiana took one just before James won it. If Hibbert was inserted, he could've camped in the lane to protect the rim.
The adage is that the most dangerous man in these scenarios is the inbounds- passer. Battier can knock down a 3-pointer, yes, but would Erik Spoelstra draw up a play for a Battier 3, even if he was left alone? The Heat are probably smart enough to see Hibbert in the lane and take a jump shot, maybe even a throw-back to Battier, but isn't a Battier 3 much better than what happened for the Pacers?
Again, with no Miami timeouts, there wouldn't be a lot of time to shuffle the play. Maybe, Ray Allen comes over to inbound and now you have the greatest shooter in the history of the game as a serious weapon re-entering the floor of play. You wouldn't be able to leave him alone at any costs.
It comes down to a philosophical debate. Would you rather have James at the rim with a chance to win, or something, anything else? Let's say Hibbert covers Bosh, and plays him half-way. Can he get out to Bosh in time if the ball goes to him? Maybe not. Can he get to the lane to bother James in time? Maybe not.
Or, maybe he could on both accounts. If Hibbert plays it half-way, wouldn't the Pacers rather have Bosh taking a 20-foot jumper, which he is very capable of making, than James shooting from inside a Tic-Tac? Seems pretty obvious to me.
Or, what if Hibbert is in the game challenging Battier's entry pass. Hibbert has the wing-span of a normal human with a broom sewn to his arm. Forcing Battier to have to make a pass with Hibbert jumping and extended would be difficult.
I've seen the play at least 50 times by now. Again, if blame gets assessed, it's on George. He took it like a man, but why didn't George grab James when he got by? James is not the greatest free-throw shooter in history and one man who could make that claim -- Allen -- missed one of two foul shots moments earlier. Foul James and make him earn the win on the free-throw line. Sam Young, who took Hibbert's place in the game, rotated over and didn't foul James, either.
So what occurred was the only thing you couldn't let occur -- a James layup.
It was a classic "damned if you do, damned if you don't" scenario for Vogel. His philosophy was not bad, it just didn't work.
Charles Barkley indicated on TNT's post-game coverage that sometimes good offense wins out. James is a historically great player already who made a great read of the situation and a great play. That happens.
But what it came down to for me was, wouldn't you want to go out there with your best group, and isn't Hibbert part of that?
"We'll have to evaluate and see what we'll do the next time. I would say we'll probably have him in next time," Vogel said.
- The Memphis Grizzlies are certainly still alive in the Western Conference Finals, but if Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol aren't spectacular, like they've been through most of the postseason, the San Antonio Spurs will win the series. Memphis isn't good enough to overcome a subpar series from its two best players.
- Anyone want to criticize Carmelo Anthony's performance in Round 2 knowing he has a partially torn labrum and might need surgery? Didn't think so. No one should criticize Anthony anyway considering how bad Raymond Felton, Tyson Chandler, J.R. Smith and Jason Kidd were against the Pacers.
- With Vinny Del Negro out as Los Angeles Clippers coach, that vacancy and the Brooklyn Nets one are the most appealing.
- Any coaching search will begin with Memphis' Lionel Hollins. Inexplicably, he is not under contract for next season and Brooklyn and the Clips will be interested.
- Cleveland Cavaliers general manager Chris Grant indicated the Cavs will listen to offers for the No. 1 pick in the draft. Good luck with that.
- Coach K is back as the U.S. men's Olympic coach, which is fine. He and Jerry Colangelo have built an awesome organization after the 2004 Olympic debacle. They force the players to make a serious commitment to the team. But, I can't help but think, after two gold medals, he could've stepped aside. Gregg Popovich probably won't get a chance now, which is a shame.
- Movie moment - In the last week, I've only caught glances of two movies - "Mississippi Burning" and "The Royal Tenenbaums." I'd like to remind everyone, once again, that Gene Hackman's last movie was "Welcome to Mooseport."
- TV moment - Fox will unveil "Does Someone Have to Go?" a reality show in which companies' employees decide whether employees should be fired, demoted or have their salaries slashed. People of the United States, I implore you not to watch this. For the good of our land, don't watch.