P.J. Carlesimo and Jon Barry Agree with Frank Vogel's Roy Hibbert DecisionIndiana Coach Frank Vogel has received widespread condemnation for his decision to twice bench 7-2 shot blocker Roy Hibbert and go with a small lineup against Miami in late game situations. On both occasions, LeBron James scored by driving straight to the hoop, including the game-winning layup as time expired in overtime; after trailing by one point with just 2.2 seconds left, Miami escaped with a 103-102 victory in game one of the Eastern Conference Finals. Vogel justified benching Hibbert by saying that if Hibbert had been on the court then Miami could have run a play for Chris Bosh, who is more mobile than Hibbert. Vogel opted to use a small lineup so that his players could switch on all screens without creating any favorable mismatches for Miami. There is some validity to what Vogel said but in order to be successful in the long run a coach must develop a system that enables him to maximize the talents of his best players; Hibbert is one of the best rim protectors in the league, so Indiana's defense should take advantage of his size and length--and if that size and length forces opposing teams to run plays for their centers to shoot jumpers instead of attacking the hoop then that is an advantage for Indiana. If Vogel's regular plan in late game situations is to go small then he should stick with that plan--but Vogel has generally tried to force teams to match up with his squad and not the other way around, so benching Hibbert is not just a questionable move strategically but also psychologically because it could result in the Indiana players feeling that Vogel does not trust his system and/or trust them.
The larger, mostly unmentioned issue is that there was no reason for Paul George to overplay James to such an extent on the final play that he gave James a wide open driving lane; regardless of who was on the court for Indiana, the team defensive strategy when up by a point with 2.2 seconds left has to be (1) defend without fouling and (2) make the opponent shoot a contested jump shot to beat us. Whether or not benching Hibbert was the best choice, the Pacers still could have won if they had forced James--or another Miami player--to shoot a contested jump shot. Did Vogel not remind George to give James a cushion or did George simply forget his assignment under pressure?
The worst possible shot for Indiana to give up was a layup or dunk by James; putting Hibbert in the game and planting him in front of the rim would have made it much less likely that James would have scored on a dunk or layup, so it is difficult to agree with Vogel's decision. Being able to switch all screens is nice and if that is how Vogel's team played throughout the season and throughout most of this game then it would be understandable for him to ride or die with that plan but Hibbert is the anchor for Indiana's stingy defense and Vogel should have stuck with what got Indiana to the Eastern Conference Finals in the first place: size, toughness and the ability to protect the paint.
It is not a good sign for Vogel that two of the people who agreed with his Hibbert decision are P.J. Carlesimo, who has hardly distinguished himself as a top NBA strategist, and Jon Barry, who has a history of saying things that do not make sense. When P.J. Carelismo and Jon Barry are praising your strategic acumen, it is time to rethink your late game defensive plan. It will be very interesting to see what Vogel does if this particular scenario presents itself again; I suspect that Vogel will keep Hibbert in the game and that Vogel will emphasize the importance of forcing a Miami player to shoot a contested jump shot.
posted by David Friedman @ 10:31 PM