VIDEO: Heat vs. Pacers: Game 5
INDIANAPOLIS — This go-around, Roy Hibbert was on the floor.
Travel back in time to Game 1 of last year’s conference finals in Miami. The Indiana Pacers led by one with just 2.2 seconds left in overtime. And Pacers coach Frank Vogel took Hibbert — “the best rim protector in the game” in Vogel’s own words — off the floor, so that his team could switch all screens and stay with the Miami Heat’s shooters, including Chris Bosh.
LeBron James caught the inbounds pass at the 3-point line and Paul George got caught out too high. James immediately turned and darted to the basket. Hibbert wasn’t there and James laid in the game-winning bucket at the buzzer.
“It’s the dilemma that they present,” Vogel said after the loss. “Obviously, with the way it worked out, it would have been better to have Roy in the game. But you don’t know. If that happens, maybe Bosh is making the jump shot, and we’re all talking about that.”
At the end of Game 5 of this year’s Eastern Conference finals on Wednesday, we saw a very similar situation. The Pacers were holding on to a two-point lead with 12.8 seconds left.
James caught the inbounds pass and was isolated at the top of the key with George. And once again, he got past him.
But this time Hibbert was on the floor, and he met James at the rim…
“We didn’t want to give up a 3,” Vogel said afterward. “But we didn’t want to give up LeBron James at the rim, like we’d done the past two. So we made sure we had rim protection and scrambled on the 3-point line.”
James, as he always does, made the pass to the open man, Bosh in the corner. It was the scenario that Vogel was planning against last year. And with this one being a two-point game instead of a one-point game, the value of the shot meant something this time.
“Thought we got a pretty good look,” James said. “You live with the result.”
“He went for the kill,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “We’ll take that. We’ll take being able to get two feet in the paint, an opportunity to either score yourself or have an opportunity for one of our better clutch 3-point shooters in his spot. That actually was good to see that poise.”
When the Heat came back to win Game 2 on this floor, their second-half run began with a few plays just like this. Spanning the third and fourth quarters, they hit three corner 3s (one from Bosh and two from Norris Cole) on plays just like this one. James got to the basket, drew an extra defender and found an open teammate with a bullet pass. It’s the Heat’s bread-and-butter.
“My teammates trust me that I’m going to make the right play to helps us win,” James said. “I trust myself that I’m going to make the right play to helps us win. And win, lose or draw, you live with that.
“We got a great look. C.B. makes that shot, then we get a stop and we’re headed to The Finals.”
As Spoelstra noted, Bosh was one of the best clutch 3-point shooters in the league in the regular season, shooting 16-for-31 (52 percent) on 3s in the last five minutes of the fourth quarter or overtime with a score differential of five points or less. He’s had a knack for hitting big shots from distance.
But he’s usually wide open on those plays. On Wednesday, George Hill was able to get in Bosh’s vision and provide an on-the-side shot contest.
Hill was able to do that because Miami’s spacing was not ideal. When James hit the paint, Bosh, Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis were all on the right side of the floor, with Allen and Lewis bunched together at the right wing.
So when Hibbert helped on the drive, Hill didn’t have far to travel to contest Bosh. And when he did, David West had already rotated over to Allen.
“I asked Ray,” Bosh said later. “I said, ‘Were you open?’ He said, ‘Yeah, he came off me.'”
But the only guy open was Lewis at the top of the key. And that’s a tough pass for Bosh to make, especially with West in his line of sight.
The Pacers defended the play well, but the Heat gave them some help. If Lewis had been quicker to fill in behind James at the top of the key, the spacing might have been better and Indiana’s rotations would have been tougher.
A feigned pick-and-roll where Lewis flares out to the left wing as James drives past would also have left just one Indiana defender to defend Bosh and Allen on the right side. A kick to Bosh and a swing to Allen may have resulted in the one of the best 3-point shooters in NBA history being all alone beyond the arc.
But the Heat still got a decent look. And both teams were willing to live with the results.
“LeBron is the smartest player in this league,” George said. “He’s going to make the right play, and he thought that was the right play. They made 15 3s tonight. So obviously, they were hot behind the 3-point line. He found a 3-point shooter that’s been hot lately for them in Chris Bosh. We were fortunate he missed. We walk away with a win.”