Indiana Pacers coach Frank Vogel told his players on Tuesday that they would win Game 1.
He was wrong on that front, and many will say he also was wrong to remove his shot blocker and defensive enforcer, Roy Hibbert, on two late defensive sequences in which LeBron James drove undeterred for layups, including a basket just before time expired.
Vogel said a strong case could have been made to leave Hibbert in the game, but he did not because of Chris Bosh’s ability to hit jump shots.
“That’s the dilemma they present with Bosh,” Vogel said. “We put a switching lineup in, and we pushed up too much and LeBron beat us off the dribble.”
Paul George said “we all would” have preferred to have Hibbert in the game on the final play. “I’m 100 percent sure he would have been there” to contest LeBron’s layup.
George said he was distracted on the play “because I saw Ray Allen running by. LeBron made a good play. You’ve got to make LeBron shoot the jumper at that point. I was up too close on him. You’ve got to make him shoot a jumper. That’s what we wanted.”
George, who struggled offensively for much of the night, was spectacular late, hitting a 32-foot three-pointer with 0.7 seconds left to send the game to an extra session.
Then, in overtime, he hit two free throws, forced a Heat 24-second violation by knocking the ball away from Dwyane Wade, then hit a driving layup and ensuing free throw to put the Pacers up three.
Fouled by Wade on a three-pointer with 2.2 seconds left, George hit three free throws to put Indiana ahead by one. He scored 18 of his 27 points in the fourth quarter and overtime.
But James foiled the Pacers’ hopes by taking an inbounds pass from Shane Battier and driving for the winning layup.
Indiana was positioned to win because of very good work from its starting frontcourt.
Forward David West scored 18 points in the first half and 26 in the game, including a driving layup that tied the score with 54 seconds left. But he had no points in overtime.
Hibbert scored 19 points but could only shake his head from the bench as James hit the winning layup.
West was the only player this season to average at least 20 points per game and shoot at least 65 percent against the Heat. And he picked up where he left off, victimizing not only Bosh, who opened defensively against him, but also Battier, who was operating with a 32-pound weight disadvantage.
Hibbert, who opened against Udonis Haslem offensively and defensively, began inauspiciously; he fumbled a ball and had shots blocked by Bosh and James in the first 4:04. But he recovered to score 11 points in the first half.
The Pacers did other things right before succumbing late:
• They outrebounded Miami 43-38 — not surprising considering Indiana outrebounded Miami by nearly 15 per game in their three meetings this season. Lance Stephenson had 12 and Hibbert had 9.
• Indiana got a lift from Tyler Hansbrough (10 points, six rebounds).
• They tightly defended the three-point line. Miami, which averaged nine threes per game, shot 5 for 18 on threes.
The Heat’s 37 first-half points were its lowest total this season.
“We’ve got the No. 1 defense in the league, so we feel confident,” West said before the game. “We’ve been relying on that all year. That’s not going to change because we’re playing the Heat.”
But Indiana committed 20 turnovers, leading to 22 Heat points. And the Pacers’ starting guards shot poorly, with Stephenson finishing 2 for 10 and George Hill 2 for 9. And, ultimately, they had no answer for James, who finished with a triple-double (30 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists).
“There is no good matchup for LeBron,” Vogel said earlier in the day. “Paul George and Sam Young are not good matchups for LeBron because that matchup doesn’t exist. But those guys are pretty good. If I’m going to have anybody, I like having those two guys.”