WASHINGTON — Frank Vogel can probably empathize with Mike Budenholzer.
In Game 1 of the 2013 Eastern Conference finals, Vogel took Roy Hibbert — the league’s best rim protector — off the floor for the Indiana Pacers’ final defensive possession, only to watch LeBron James drive for the game-winning layup at the buzzer. Vogel’s decision, of course, was second-guessed for the next couple of days.
Budenholzer, the 2014-15 Coach of the Year, is now in a similar position after leaving DeMarre Carroll off the floor for the final possession of Game 3 of the conference semifinals on Saturday. The 6-8 Carroll, the Hawks’ best perimeter defender, was on the bench as Paul Pierce hit the game-winner over 6-1 Dennis Schroder.
After the game, Carroll seemed to insinuate that it was his call to keep him on the bench, saying that Budenholzer did put him in the game, but “I didn’t feel comfortable, as far as physically.”
After practice on Sunday, though, Carroll changed his tune.
“Me and coach, we discussed the situation,” Carroll said, “we discussed the sub, and we felt that was the best group at the time, because they had come all the way back. And due that I didn’t play in a quarter and a half, we felt that was the best group to give us the best shot to get that stop.”
The group that was on the floor:
- Schroder, who was initially guarding Will Bynum.
- Shelvin Mack, guarding Ramon Sessions.
- Kent Bazemore, guarding Bradley Beal.
- Kyle Korver, initially guarding Pierce.
- Mike Muscala, guarding Marcin Gortat.
That was the group (for the most part) that brought the Hawks back from 21 points down to tie the game with 14.1 seconds on the clock. But that wasn’t necessarily the best group to defend the Wizards for those final 14.1 seconds.
Budenholzer confirmed Sunday that Carroll is the Hawks’ best wing defender.
“But considering he hadn’t played the entire fourth quarter,” Budenholzer said, “then there’s lots of things that go into making decisions. So you evaluate, you listen, and you make a decision. That’s what coaches do.”
Carroll was, basically, out of the game since the 1:57 mark of the third quarter. But the strange thing is that he was on the floor for the Wizards’ previous possession.
After Schroder hit two free throws to pull the Hawks within a point with 23.8 seconds left, the Wizards called timeout and Budenholzer put Carroll in the game against a small Wizards lineup (Otto Porter in Gortat’s place).
That possession lasted less than two seconds, as Schroder immediately fouled Bynum. And after Muscala tied the game, it was Carroll that Budenholzer chose to sit when he needed a bigger guy to defend Gortat.
Seemingly, Carroll could have been out there instead of Mack or Korver, or even Schroder for that matter, because Carroll has the ability to stay in front of the Washington guards.
As for how his team – the unit he had out there – defended the final possession, Budenholzer has no complaints. When Bynum set a screen for Pierce, Schroder switched onto the ball. Though Pierce needed help from the glass, it didn’t hurt that he was shooting over a guy that’s six inches shorter than he is.
“There was a very good screen set,” Budenholzer said. “Considering the screen and the separation, it was a good read and a good decision. And I thought the individual defense was good. The help, the contest from Kent Bazemore was good. And Paul Pierce hit a tough shot.”
Asked if, given another chance, he would have fought harder for the opportunity to be on the floor, Carroll answered, “no comment.”
While the Wizards might have another big, last-minute offensive possession in this series, it probably won’t come with the same circumstances, where the Hawks’ third string was responsible for giving their team a chance to win. So Budenholzer probably won’t face the same decision he faced on Saturday.
That doesn’t mean he’ll escape the second-guessing.