Players, obviously, decide NBA games, but one shouldn’t underestimate the value of coaches, even in such a freelance sport.
Take Miami’s 103-102 victory over Indiana in the first game of their Eastern Conference finals series.
The Heat’s Erik Spoelstra put his players in a position to win the game.
The Pacers’ Frank Vogel didn’t.
That may be somewhat of an overstatement, but not by much.
With 2.2 seconds left in Wednesday night’s overtime, the Heat trailed by a point after three clutch free throws by the Pacers’ Paul George. During a timeout, Spoelstra, who had drawn up a play earlier that got Dwyane Wade an open layup, drew up a play that had as its first option Shane Battier getting an inbounds pass to LeBron James.
Meanwhile, Vogel had his best inside defender, Roy Hibbert, sitting on the bench.
James caught the pass, and when George overplayed him to one side, spun around the helpless defender for an unimpeded left-handed layup. The ball nestled in the net as the horn sounded.
Ball game and 1-0 advantage in the series for the Heat.
“He was able to get into some room, into some space and he made a great play from there,” Spoelstra said of James, who finished with 30 points, 10 rebounds, and 10 assists for his ninth triple-double in his playoff history. “He just read the defense and was able to get all the way to the rim.”
Vogel explained he was fearful that if Hibbert had to defend the Chris Bosh, the 7-foot-2 center might leave the Heat star open for a potential game-winning jumper. But he also acknowledged that if he had to do it over again, he probably would have had Hibbert on the floor to defend not only the final play but also on James’ driving layup that had given the Heat a 101-99 lead with 10.8 seconds remaining.
But there are no do-overs in the NBA.
Now Vogel’s Pacers are down a game in the best-of-seven series and will go into Friday night’s Game 2 with the nagging thought in the back of their minds that they just may have let their best shot at getting a necessary win on the Heat’s court get away from them.
Yes, they are professionals and have the ability to bounce back. But the questions is will David West be able to duplicate the 11-of-17 shooting night he had in the opener? Is George going to be able to hit another shot like the miracle 3-pointer — official scorers put it down as a 32-footer — that sent the game into overtime? Are the Heat going to make 21 turnovers and hit only five of 18 attempts from beyond the 3-point arc?
Remember, too, that after the Heat lost their opener at home in the series against Chicago, they bounced back with a 37-point rout of the Bulls in the second game. From there, they won the next two at Chicago and the return match at AmericanAirlines Arena to win the series in five games.
The Pacers look to be a much sterner test, mostly because they are healthy (unlike the Bulls) and showed they have the ability to keep the game at their pace. But they’re going to have to have their best players on the floor to do it.