It was all set up for Paul George to be the unlikely hero of game 1 in the Eastern Conference Finals. He did a good job on LeBron James; hit a wild three pointer that sent the game into overtime; and three super-clutch free throws with 2.2 seconds left to give the Indiana Pacers a 102-101 lead. And then Frank Vogel takes out Roy Hibbert for the final play (again!), leading to a defeat off a buzzer beating layup.
What’s Vogel’s explanation? He was afraid of Chris Bosh and Ray Allen. Maybe if Dwyane Wade was on the floor as well, the Heat would have had two slashers for Vogel to fear and Hibbert would have been on the scene, clogging the paint. But Dwyane Wade fouled out when he sent Paul George to the free throw line, where he calmly made all 3 shots, finishing with 26 points on an otherwise awful night from him (1-of-5 until that point) from the line.
The Indiana Pacers did so many things right. Their confident, almost surprisingly-arrogant approach, led by Frank Vogel, gave them the lead on so many parts of the game. George did an excellent job on James until the final two plays in which James had possession, while three point shooters like Ray Allen and Shane Battier were a non-factor, as the two combined for only 1-8 from beyond the arc.
They forced 20 turnovers off the Heat, something that rarely happens, while grabbing 17 offensive rebounds, 7 of them by Roy Hibbert who finished with 19 points. David West was impossible to stop for a long while, making the most out of the mismatch with Shane Battier, until the Heat finally wised-up to the situation late in the fourth quarter, as he led the team with 27 points, including 18 in the first half. But it wasn’t enough.
Because the Pacers’ post-up and pick & rolls, which were so good during the first half, stopped working consistently later on, as Hibbert faded away offensively as he tends to do during the second half. The Pacers turned the ball over 20 times, and while they did get 18 points off the bench from Tyler Hansbrough and D.J. Augustin, their guards, George Hill (2-of-9, 5 points) and Lance Stephenson (2-of-10, 7 points) were a non-factor offensively for almost the entire game.
At the end of the game, Frank Vogel said that the Pacers simply need to play better, and can play better. Looking across the board, despite the impressive performance on both ends of the floor from their frontcourt, he is correct. Only the Miami Heat can play, and will play better as well. Their role players, like Allen, Battier and Norris Cole will have better games.
The Pacers are a nightmare for the Heat, and we had 53 minutes to see why. Even after switching, they have so many answers to LeBron James and his supporting cast it’s quite easy to consider them as good enough to drag this series on to 6 and 7 games, maybe even win it. But for that, they need their biggest advantage the Heat can’t counter with something of their own – Roy Hibbert, to be on the floor as much as possible, while being as good as possible. Paul George is a revelation this season, but it’s not enough against a team that has the best player in the world at his position on the other side.