It was the second quarter of the biggest game of their lives.
A coach whose confidence turned into cockiness, which turned into confusion, had his bread-and-butter boys—Roy Hibbert and Paul George on the bench in a paternity test-pressure Game 7—while LBJ and the defending World Champs turned it up on the Pacers Junior Varsity team.
With Hibbert and George out, the Heat went on an 11-2 tear. Every Heat player—from Wade to Ray Allen to Mike Miller to Chris “Section 8” Bosh—seemed to simultaneously snap out of their offensive funks.
Contests like this are often decided by one crucial momentum shift.
These cats have been playing each other dead even all series, and Pacers coach Frank Vogel handed Miami a silver platter of disaster that exploded in the Pacers face as the most inopportune time. Does Vogel have something against his second-best player being on the floor when it matters most? The gift, buzzer-beating layup in O.T. of Game 1, and now this.
We all know the general rules of coaching. Preserving your star players for late game situations is not ground-breaking strategy, but in Game 7 of the ECF, the philosophy should be all hands on deck. It’s similar to Game 7 of the World Series in baseball.
Every player and pitcher, from the closer to the third starter is willing to do whatever it takes to reign supreme.
You can’t play checkers in a Game 7. You have to get your chess on. TNT analyst Reggie Miller was totally against it, imploring Vogel to put his starters back in. “They’re young, they should be on the floor,” Miller said during the telecast. “They have all summer to rest.”
The Pacers were going the extra mile for most of the series. Their entire journey breeds optimism for next year’s run. Hibbert blossomed into a game-changing big man. George took that next step. Lance Stephenson emerged as more than just another overrated NYC guard. Miami will be one year older. So will the Knicks. The Pacers should be one year better with a healthy Danny Granger, fighting for that No. 1 seed.
The playoffs are where superstars are born. If Hibbert and George truly want to be in that elite realm of NBA court-wreckers, then the next time Vogel tries to bench them with all the marbles at stake, they have to do a bit more resisting. Can’t be sitting on the pine, helplessly watching your team get slayed like the Starks Family in “Game of Thrones.”
After the couple of rough days Hibbert experienced, he especially should have had to be taken off the court kicking and screaming.
During that second quarter Miami outscored the Pacers 33-16. By the time they could get back into the flow, Miami had a 15-point halftime lead.
Vogel, once again, forgot who he was coaching against and what the situation was.
In the end, the Pacers weren’t ready to take that next step. Champions usually know how to be classy. Champions push the envelope—on the court—when the chips are down. The Pacers are a great ’13 NBA story, but it could have been so much more. Instead of going for the kill, they decided to chill. By the time they thawed, the very tangible miracle was lost.