Thursday, May 23, 2013

Pacers- Heat Game One: Bailout Ball

First off, the only thing anyone is ever going to remember. For a long damn time.

Before we get into a wildly memorable game... had you forgotten all about the Eastern Conference Finals? I almost had, and I care about pro hoop more than anyone I know. But the Heat's playoff series have been forgettable, and the Pacer games have been only a little bit less so. So when this one came across my TV, more by habit then by anticipation after a ridiculous six day layoff, and the game was close after three, I felt like I had missed, well, nothing. And I hadn't.

(Tangent 1: I, for one, applaud the NBA's desire to approximate the worst aspects of college football in this fashion. Why should playoff games be decided by the full complement of a team's players, when it can be just about the 5 to 7 guys that are going to get real minutes in game situations, with rust to boot? Back to it.)

As for this game... the reason why the Heat are going to win this series, and a second straight NBA crown, shows up routinely in the fourth quarter of close games. That reason, not to put too fine a point on this, wears #6 for the Heat. He's too strong to guard down low, too fast to guard from distance, too unselfish to not get clean looks for his teammates, and too driven to let games slip. And his teammates know it, and so so the refs, which makes every close game an exercise of Can He Do It Again.

I had the same feeling, back in the day, watching the Jordan Bulls, and while I always marveled and respected those teams, I also kind of hated them. Some people get off on dynasties and want to be able to say how they saw true greatness, but true greatness has the same ending, over and over again. Tonight, the Pacers were right there, unafraid and unapologetic, and yet I was writing these words when the game was tied with eight minutes left in the fourth. There's only so many times that the football gets pulled away before you stop letting Lucy Van Pelt be your holder. (Or, better off, just kicking her in the freaking head and ending your torment. But perhaps I've shared too much.)

In tonight's game, once we got into the money quarter, James kept getting Iverson Assists -- soft missed shots where multiple Pacers overplayed him and left bunny offensive rebounds for his teammates -- when he wasn't converting on his own. You have to play better than Miami, and not just by a little, to overcome that, because it means that they don't even have to make shots or free throws to keep scoring points. It's a dimension that no other team has. If I were going against him, I'd spend the first three quarters doing nothing on offense or defense other than trying to get him in foul trouble, but that's not how NBA players work; they want to win by playing ball, not chumpery. It's also why intentional hacking schemes are rare.

(Tangent 2: Special credit for this one goes to Chris "Birdman" Anderson, who was a presence on both ends and kept Miami's energy up, since he seems to be the only Heat player who is truly excited about this winning thing any more. To the others, it's more relief from losing, or grim satisfaction at annoying the Pacers. He was perfect tonight, and they needed him to be.)

Beyond the game-ender, which I'll get into in a bit... the signature play for me was a made three by James after a spectacular block by Hibbert on Dwyane Wade. While it was only three points, you usually see plays like that spark a run, because the way of hoop is that some points are more valuable than others, in that they convince players that they are going to win or lose. The Pacers are single-minded enough to overcome that, with a made three and one of the most painful stops ever (Norris Cole hooked David West in the jewels) before Hibbert turned it over in the paint to stop the mini-run and kill the lead change chance. James to Wade at the rim was beauty for the 3-point lead, and Chris Bosh got another make to push it to four, before Hibbert volleyballed up an o-board to keep it close. James had a terrible possession and miss, and West tied it again with 54.6 left.

In the money minute, Wade got to the rim for the surprisingly easy layup around Hibbert at the rim; maybe Indy coach Frank Vogel saw that as Foreshadowing, or something. Indy then called timeout, another rough move given the ability of the Heat to swap defense for offense and clamp down in halfcourt. Wade got a piece of a miss, and Miami got a turnover off the o-board. There's a reason why the Pacers don't win close games, folks. Miami got the ball into Ray Allen's hands to make the killshot free throws, and he actually missed one to keep the game in doubt. Wade nearly stole an inbound, then Vogel called his final timeout with 11.9 left. This is not a team that looks comfortable in close and late. Without a timeout to advance, Indy looked bound to a tying three attempt...

And George utterly bailed out a horrible possession from 30 feet to tie it with 0.7 left. Wow. The Heat could have fouled West late in the clock and more or less ended it, but that's not something that players ever do. Allen's heave at the buzzer never had a chance, and hey, free ball.

(Tangent 3: This is going to get lost in the history, but Indy shouldn't have made it to overtime, and also shouldn't have gotten the lead at the end of overtime.) The last minute work was weak at best, and George's heaves are low percentage shots that maybe goes in about 20% of the time. Had either of those clanged out, there's no time for the put-back or anything other than the Heat leaving with a more or less ordinary win. But that's not how ball goes.)

Early in the overtime, Batitier missed and then picked up his fifth while defending West, but the Pacer PF missed both FTs and the Heat kept the ball after a peep show. Anderson got an o-board and Wade spiked the ball off Lance Stephenson for another shot, but James turned it over with an awful play. Wade took his fifth rather than give up a layup, but George hit both to give the Pacers a 2-point lead. Anderson, of all people got to the line for Hibbert's 5th, then continued his perfect night to tie it again. Hibbert scored off a nice entry pass for another lead, then George punched the ball away from Wade to force a shot clock violation; another great play. West missed something quite make-able, leading to a Wade runout for the tie; the Pacers should have been up by 4. George answered with an old-school and one for James' 5th foul -- and at this point, everyone started noticing just how amazing he's been -- and the 3-point lead with 2:05 left.

(Tangent 4: Frank Vogel is going to get the goat horns for benching Hibbert in the final minute, but West was the real reason why the Pacers lost the overtime. Two missed FTs, a missed FG that led to a runout and another miss late; that's 6 to 8 points in a 1-point overtime period. He's got to be better if Indy is going to have any chance in this series, but there's a reason why he's, well, not a star. Moving on.)

Allen got George Hill's 4th on undue exuberance. James continued to defer, leading to Battier missing from 35 feet at the end of the clock; mind-defying bad possession, and Miami was on the ropes. Stephenson missed early in the clock. Bosh missed from three, and then Battier from the arc again, but Bosh saved the game with an o-board, make and old-school 3. The Heat PF got away with a shove, but that's what happens at home, really, and that might have been the biggest play of the overtime that you won't see a million times in highlights. Tie game with 49.7 left in the extra.

West missed again, and Wade beasted up for the board. With 24.6 left in the first overtime, Miami had another chance to win... and Indy coach Frank Vogel inexplicably took Hibbert off the floor for it. So James went to the rack and scored with 10.8 left, because, well, why the hell not? I guess you can just get another bailout three off another terrible last possession...

And that's more or less what happened.

Hill nearly turned over the inbounds, but got it back to George after the melee. Wade fouled out while guarding George on a heave with 2.2 left, after a scramble / near turnover; I'm amazed that the Heat didn't get that no-call at home. George made all three for the lead, as calmly as if he were in warm ups, and that was just unreal. The Heat's last possession, after the usual back and forth chess piece timeouts, was a shocking moment of Pacer Fail, as James got the step on George from the catch and went to the rim for a layup for the win. George overplayed the pass, James turned the corner, and that was just stupid easy.

Hibbert was on the bench for both of James' lay-ups in the final seconds of overtime, when he was deferring; the lack of the stopper clearly inspired James. I have no idea what the hell Vogel was thinking, or why the TNT media stepped over themselves to excuse the move, as if James was just going to make both of those shots without a shot blocker in the game.

Oh, and by the way? Vogel took Hibbert off the floor to get the immortal Sam Young on the floor. If you don't know who Sam Young is, don't feel bad; Young barely knows by now, seeing how he's on his third team in 3 years, having washed out of the SIXERS. Yes, a guy who wasn't good enough to get burn in Philly was someone who Vogel wanted on the floor in the final moments of a had to have it defensive stop. I get that maybe Hibbert isn't an ideal guy, that he's had issues guarding Bosh on the baseline, and that he wasn't dominant in the fourth at the rim... but really? You'd rather have a 6'-6" journeyman swingman on the floor instead?

Can the Pacers shake this off and somehow steal Game 2? Of course; Miami is not, this year's playoff record notwithstanding, a true juggernaut, and this game hinged on a handful of plays that could have easily gone the other way. Without the Bosh save, or with a West make, they would have lost this game in overtime, and if they actually play defense on the final possession, they win it in another way that never happens in those Dynasty DVDs. James had a triple double in this game, but with overtime minutes and his usual game, that's nearly containment, especially given how much George got in the last 2+ periods.

But as we've seen time and again, when you fail to complete the road steal early against a favorite, you generally regret it. And with the time off between games, you get to wallow in it for a long damn time, too...


Snd_dsgnr said...

I understand that this is easier said than done, but don't you at least have to attempt to lay out James on that last play and make him earn the points at the line? It's not like a three point play hurts you any more there.

DMtShooter said...

Of course. And one more reason, among many, why Hibbert is a better idea in the game at that point than Young.

But it's a rare player, in any sport (I'm reminded of Brian Westbrook turtling up at the goal line to end Dallas), that's able to overcome muscle memory for game situation. Witness how the Heat didn't foul West with 2 seconds left in regulation, before he handed off to George for the equalizer. Guys really don't know how to foul the right way anymore.

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