When it comes to the biggest game the Indiana Pacers have had in over a decade, you expect their best player to show up at his best. But Paul George was suffocated by the NBA Champions’ defense, letting his team down, along with everyone else, including Frank Vogel and Roy Hibbert, showing they’re still not quite as good as they make themselves out to be.
You can’t turn the ball over 21 times in a game 7, even if the Heat didn’t score much off of those. You can’t have the Heat grabbing 15 offensive rebounds all of a sudden, and Roy Hibbert, who has been so dominant for the last two series become a non-factor on defense while being unable to handle the boards on the other side.
When you look back at the series and especially game 7, as the Pacers lost 99-76, too many games weren’t that close for Indiana, losing games 3, 5 and 7 by double digits. Knowing the Heat were going to play in a much higher intensity and urgency than they did in game 6, the Pacers simply folded when the pressure was brought to their faces. Every trap on George Hill and Paul George became an automatic turnover, and Indiana stopped moving the ball well or going to the inside without using Roy Hibbert.
George himself took only nine shots, finishing with 7 points, fouling out after 34 minutes. LeBron James was impossible for him to stop, and not for the first time, made him look a lot less “superstarish” on the other hand, hitting only 25% of his shots with James guarding him at the time. David West, who had a very up and down kind of series, was the easiest man to target for the Heat, forcing him to six turnovers, figuring out how to keep him from helping Hibbert in the paint with the mismatch problems he provides.
And when Frank Vogel prefers to talk about how much his team improved this season instead of admitting to his own mistakes, you can’t help to blame him as well for their collapse in the last game of the season, after all the praise he got for the way the Pacers pushed the Heat to a final game in the conference finals. The future should be bright, if they do keep David West and find the right way to integrate Danny Granger back into the team.
When the team needed intelligent play from Lance Stephenson and George Hill, they didn’t get it. When you don’t have a bench to rely on, it’s impossible to get such a weak performance from pretty much each one of your starters. Paul George may become one of the best players in the NBA soon enough, but right now, LeBron James made him look like someone who’s just not ready yet, while Roy Hibbert ran out of gas. The Pacers just didn’t have enough, despite their huge confident streak going into the game.
But after a performance this bad, the only thing to do is try to look towards the future and the bright side. The Pacers weren’t the popular pick to be the team that will challenge Miami for the Eastern title, but they did. With the right kind of offseason moves, and maybe more importantly, with the right kind of lessons learned from their humbling experience in game 7, next season won’t be such a surprise if they make it this far or even further.