The initial reaction is of course one of disappointment, bitterness, and maybe even anger. After all, the Indiana Pacers just about had the game won, but LeBron James, being the MVP, superstar, one of the GOATs that he is, blew by Paul George for a game-winning layup at the buzzer. And so game 1 of the 2013 Eastern Conference Finals ended in an 103-102 OT thriller in Miami.
People are questioning whether coach Frank Vogel blew it. Towards the end of regulation, Vogel took out 7'2" Roy Hibbert because he was worried about Chris Bosh's speed and mid-range jumper. The Pacers ended up getting George Hill switched on James, and James overpowered him for an easy layup. Vogel made the decision to take Hibbert out again on the final possession of the game, and Paul George overplayed James on the inbounds pass, allowing the MVP to get a first step on him. And that was all he needed.
Was it Vogel's fault the Pacers lost this one? It's easy to say now that he made the wrong decision in taking out whom he calls the "best rim defender in the game" because James finished with a layup at the rim. But what if he kept Hibbert in and Bosh won it with an open jumper? Hindsight is always 20-20. That said, it probably would sting less had it been Bosh rather than James who took that last shot.
It's also easy to get on Paul George's back because he failed to stay in front of LeBron on that final play. The idea was to make the King take a contested jumper, but 2.2 seconds was way too much time, and Lebron only needs one dribble to get all the way the cup. But if George hadn't hit that 32-foot three-pointer at the end of regulation the Pacers wouldn't even have gotten into overtime in the first place. If he hadn't drawn a foul on D-Wade and hit three crunch time free throws on the second-to-last possession, the Pacers wouldn't even have had the lead.
Sure, LeBron had a triple-double with 32-10-10, but he worked so hard for it because PG24 went toe-to-toe with him all night. For his part, George finished with 27 points, 4 rebounds and 5 assists. Most impressively, after struggling mightily from the foul line last series against the Knicks (he was 3-9 in game 6), George finished 10-11 from the charity stripe. That's the sign of a superstar right there, and people often forget he's only a third-year player who just turned 23.
In the aftermath, people have been quick to jump to the conclusion that the Pacers won't have another chance like this in the series. The Heat had 20 turnovers! They won't have that again, they say. But hey, Pacers had 20 turnovers too. And what are the odds of Chris Andersen shooting 7-7 from the field again?
Was this the Pacers' best chance to get a win on the Heat's home floor? Perhaps. But the Pacers lost game 1 last year as well and came back to snatch game 2, so I wouldn't count them out just yet. Before the series began, I noted how important it was for the Pacers to perform well in the keys to the series in order to have a chance to prevail.
The first of those was to dominate the boards, and they didn't get that done. They won the overall rebound battle 43-38, but the Pacers allowed 16 offensive boards, allowing Miami to get to many of the 50-50 balls, especially down the stretch. The Pacers simply have to do a better job boxing out and rebounding.
Secondly, I said the Pacers have to limit their turnovers, and they didn't get that done either. They should be aiming for 10-15, but tonight they had 20. They've struggled protecting the ball all season and it will be hard to keep them down in the face of Miami's suffocating traps, but if they want to win a chance to win the series they have to take better care of the ball.
I also said the Pacers need to stay out of foul trouble. They were somewhat successful in that respect tonight, with only David West missing a portion of the first half because of foul trouble. Still, all five starters had at least 4 fouls, with Roy Hibbert on the edge with 5.
Free throw shooting was another area. The Pacers hit a respectable 24-32 from the line (75%), but realistically they need to shoot 80% or better. In a series where every point counts they cannot afford to cough up those free points.
The Pacers bench, which is usually horrible, turned out to be OK in the end, mainly because of the spark Tyler Hansbrough brought to the team. Psycho-T had 10 points and 6 rebounds in 12 minutes, while DJ Augustin had 8 points in 15 minutes. To be honest, that's about all you can ask of this Pacers bench, and I would be ecstatic if they got that kind of production every night.
So yes, the Pacers did some things right but also a lot of other things wrong. Instead of feeling like they blew the only chance they had, the Pacers should feel very confident about getting so close to stealing one in Miami. This was one of those games where I kept expecting Miami to turn it up to another gear and break the game wide open, but it showed how much I was underestimating this Pacers team — like everyone else. Instead of folding, the Pacers buckled down and withstood wave after wave of attack and were right there until the end. I had doubted they had that much resilience in them. I won't make that mistake again.