LeBron James submitted an MVP effort last night in Miami, hitting a game-winning layup in overtime to overcome a very tough Pacers team and protect home court advantage. James finished with 30 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists for yet another playoff triple-double, the ninth of his career. Among active players, that puts him just one behindRajon Rondo and Jason Kidd. But the final two of his 30 points were the most crucial, and they came with Indiana big man and shot blocker extraordinaire Roy Hibbert sitting on the bench. Pacers coach Frank Vogel elected to bench Hibbert to counter Miami’s small lineup, and when James slashed to the hoop for the uncontested game winner, the camera cut to a defeated Hibbert, hanging his head and smirking. ESPN’s Bill Simmons may have said it best.
Why take Hibbert out? Why take Hibbert out? Why take Hibbert out? Why take Hibbert out? Why take Hibbert out? Why take Hibbert out?
— Bill Simmons (@BillSimmons) May 23, 2013
It’s silly to second guess coaches after the fact, but it’s also incredibly satisfying. Most people, put in that position, would keep Hibbert in the game. Of course, most people would not be able to get within 100 feet of an NBA bench unless someone hooked them up with courtside seats. Coaching is incredibly difficult as it is, and magnifying small decisions like this can drive coaches crazy. The thing is, most coaches place way too much value on their own ability. Yankees coach Joe Girardi famously manages from a binder filled with matchup breakdowns and statistics. Patriots coach Bill Belicheck goes for it on fourth down and fails. Even legendary Lakers/Bulls coach Phil Jackson stubbornly runs his Triangle offense, sometimes irrespective of the personnel on his team. To ascend to a high position, you need to have confidence in yourself and your abilities. But just because someone has put you in charge of a team doesn’t make you a genius. A real genius recognizes that they can only affect a situation so much, and that over thinking is the first step toward a mistake. Take Vogel’s counterpart last night, Erik Spoelstra. He’s done a fantastic job of coaching the Miami Heat because he was able to convince superstars to play defense and rely on ball movement. It’s a testament to his coaching ability that he was able to identify the assets of his players and exploit them. Vogel was trying to play chess on the last play, and got cute. Taking Hibbert out was a mistake, but the best player in the league also completely punked one of the best defenders in the league, Paul George, simply by virtue of how scary he is to defend. George overplayed James completely, and his momentum was so away from the basket he could barely catch up to the freight train that is LeBron driving to the hoop. Is George to blame? Is Vogel? Should Hibbert have demanded to stay in the game, like he said afterwards? When you’re going against LeBron James, it’s no one’s fault. Lex Luther probably doesn’t fret too much when he gets defeated by Superman time and again, because… well, it’s freakin’ Superman. No amount of coaching or planning can stop that. Maybe Vogel has some kryptonite handy? That might be a better coaching move in Game 2. Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images