If LeBron James was just like any other superstar and the Miami Heat were similar to most NBA teams, than Frank Vogel and the Indiana Pacers wouldn’t have had a problem on that final play that ended disastrously for them. He would have known the last ball would be going to the MVP for sure, and not have to worry about Ray Allen shooting a corner three or Chris Bosh taking a mid-range jump shot he excels in.
The decision to take out Roy Hibbert has been discussed and dissected more than any other NBA substitution in history, if my memory serves me correctly, and this was only game 1. Yes, Roy Hibbert on the floor would have changed the way the Heat would have planned and executed on that final play, but there’s no guarantee the Heat wouldn’t have drive to the basket anyway and try to draw a foul; the refs weren’t that sure on Dwyane Wade actually fouling Paul George seconds earlier, giving the Pacers the lead. There’s a tendency to try and correct mistakes by making other mistakes, especially if it helps the more popular team, who also happened to be playing at home.
That’s the conundrum LeBron James sets before you. On most NBA teams, everyone knows who is going to get the final ball. That’s the NBA for you. The best league in the world, but lacking in coaching creativity most of the time. Carmelo Anthony, and only him, was going to get the pass if the Pacers were playing the Knicks and facing a similar situation. Kevin Durant for the Oklahoma City Thunder would have demanded and gotten that last ball. There’s not even a question about Kobe Bryant, who would have tried to take a shot even with five players on him.
LeBron James has heard criticisms about his performances in crunch time since he set foot in the NBA. Too timid, not aggressive enough, looks for the pass and not for the shot. The reason LeBron James is so good is because he’s the biggest superstar in the NBA, the best basketball player on the planet, and he isn’t selfish in the way he plays. He looks for the pass first most of the time, which makes it quite difficult to guard him and the rest of his team, not really knowing if it’s LeBron they’re making a play for or someone else. James has been known to pass on final shots for the likes of Udonis Haslem and Damon Jones back in Cleveland, and with both Bosh and Allen on the floor, not to mention Wade who had fouled out seconds earlier.
Look, Frank Vogel made a mistake, and he’ll probably never repeat it again. Even when thinking about Pick & Roll switches and mismatches, you need someone to deter people from going to the paint. But James makes that much of a difference every time he’s on the floor, and especially on final plays. The Miami Heat aren’t the best team in the NBA for the last couple of years, winning 46 of their last 49 games just because LeBron James is a superstar. It’s because he’s the kind of superstar no one has even seen before.