Paul George saved the Indiana Pacers in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Miami Heat on Wednesday night, but Frank Vogel decided to give the game away in overtime. The Heat prevailed 103-102 in a thriller thanks to LeBron James, who scored a driving layup as time expired at AmericanAirlines Arena.
Indiana didn't play their best basketball, but George hit a prayer of a three-pointer with 0.7 seconds left in regulation to force overtime. The shot came almost ten feet behind the line on a botched offensive possession that Miami couldn't have defend better.
George, who had 18 points in the fourth quarter and overtime, then grabbed hold of the game in the extra frame. He converted a three-point play early and hit three free throws on a questionable foul call with 2.2 seconds left to give the Pacers a 102-101 advantage.
On Indiana's final two defensive possessions, Vogel took Roy Hibbert off the floor in favor of Sam Young to match up better in terms of size with the Heat. Both times LeBron got through the first level of the defense and found the rim unprotected. Both times he scored as Miami survived a scare at home.
This game was one of the best of the postseason thus far and hopefully is a sign of things to come throughout the series, but it's hard not to harp on Vogel's decisions in the final moments.
Wednesday night wasn't the first time Vogel overcoached down the stretch in these playoffs. He took Hibbert off the floor late at times in the New York series, but the Knicks aren't the Heat and they didn't take advantage of the misplay.
Hibbert is one of the game's best rim protectors -- you could argue he's the best -- and LeBron and Dwyane Wade love to attack the basket. He's been touted by many as the key to this series because of the significant size advantage he has over Miami's bigs and his improved defense on penetration. He anchored what was statistically either the best or second-best defense in the NBA in the regular season. Hibbert finished tenth in voting for the Defensive Player of the Year last month.
To put it simply: Roy Hibbert is one of the best defenders in the game and a prime neutralizer for guys like LeBron and Wade. Did I mention Hibbert was an All-Star last season and that he signed a huge contract last summer?
On the final possession, taking Hibbert off the floor left George exposed defensively. He overplayed LeBron on the inbounds pass and the NBA's MVP got the step he needed for an easy layup. We don't know if the referees would have swallowed their whistles (they rarely did in Game 1), but at the very least LeBron would had some resistance at the rim if Hibbert was on the floor.
Pacers Do Job At Three-Point Line
Indiana did a great job of closing out and limiting Miami's open looks from deep. They held the Heat to 5-for-18 (27.8%) in the game, actually eclipsing them by less than a percentage point (four makes on 28.6% shooting).
Only the Knicks and Rockets averaged more three-point makes than the Heat (8.7) in the regular season. They had the second-highest percentage (39.6%) as they value the corner three more than any team in the league.
Miami Does Enough On Glass
Even if the Pacers had pulled out a Game 1 victory, the Heat would have been happy with their rebounding performance. Indiana has all the size and statistics in their favor, but only outrebounded Miami by five. There were a ton of offensive rebounds (33 combined) and the Heat got a ton of second looks late.
Through three quarters, Indiana held a 32-22 rebounding edge. In the final 17 minutes of the game, Miami had a 16-11 advantage.
LeBron and Udonis Haslem combined for 17 rebounds, but it was Chris Andersen that did the most damage. Not exactly an offensive threat, Andersen scored 16 points on 7-for-7 shooting with all of those looks coming within feet (or seemingly inches) of the rim or on putbacks.
The Pacers let one slip away, but one positive takeaway is how close they were to victory despite a poor performance from the backcourt duo of George Hill and Lance Stephenson. They combined to go 4-for-19 from the field, 0-for-7 from deep, with seven turnovers. Hill doesn't look right, whether it's something lingering from last week's concussion or a possible foot injury (TNT conjecture), as he had trouble simply keeping possession of the basketball.
Stephenson was once again a monster on the glass with 12 rebounds, but didn't follow up his breakout performance from Game 6 on Saturday night with much. He airballed a three long on one play and had a quick trigger on a one in overtime with the Pacers up 99-96 and 81 seconds left. Miami grabbed two offensive rebounds on the ensuing possession and Chris Bosh tied the game with a three-point play.
If the Pacers are going to make this a long series, they'll need at least average performances from Hill and Stephenson.
George's Growing Pains
It's easy to forget that Paul George enjoyed just his 23rd birthday earlier this month, but the scope of his age and maturity was on full display in Game 1. He had two points in the first half, committed six turnovers (including an unsightly one near the end of regulation) and was abused by LeBron at times.
He also sent the game to overtime with a 32-foot three-pointer, gave the Pacers a lead in the extra period and did a respectable job on James more often than not when you consider the assignment. On LeBron's game-winning layup, he overplayed the pass and created an opening for the MVP. He had no safety valve behind him, perhaps he thought he did, but staying in front of James on the play certainly would have increased the degree of difficulty.
Paul George will be an unquestioned superstar very soon, but he's still experiencing some growing pains and they are happening on the game's biggest stage.
Win With Defense
There will be no more harping on Vogel's decision to pull Hibbert late, but the Pacers know who they are and shouldn't try to win any other way. Vogel should force Erik Spoelstra to bend to his bigger lineup rather than try to make a chess move of his own. Indiana has gotten this far by imposing their will and they did so throughout regulation. There is no reason to change the approach when the moments are magnified.
If you take a pessimistic outlook going forward, it's unlikely the Pacers can hang with the Heat in a back-and-forth game consistently. They have to lean on defensive stops, cutting down on offensive rebounds, and do all they can not to count on answering offensively as the series progresses.
There were numerous possessions in which Indiana had to counter after a Miami score and they did well in that regard. They are shooting just 42% in the postseason, better than only New York and Boston, and shooting 45% (as they did in Game 1) is certainly no guarantee.
As entertaining as the game was, the Pacers and Heat combined for 41 turnovers. They were virtually even in points scored off miscues (Indiana had a 22-18 edge). The Pacers have averaged 4.6 more turnovers than their opponent in the playoffs, while the Heat have committed 1.2 fewer miscues in the second season.
Indiana can't compete with Miami for long if they don't take better care of the basketball. The Heat couldn't take advantage of many of the turnovers on Wednesday night because of a number were of the dead-ball variety and Spoelstra's crew won't make as many bad decisions again in this series.