The Herald Bulletin

May 23, 2013

Mike Lopresti: Welcome to the NBA spotlight, coach


— Good morning Frank Vogel, and welcome to the Eastern Conference finals spotlight. Having fun, yet?

Not the most stress-free experience for the Indiana Pacers coach so far, is it?

Rule of thumb: It’s seldom good news when the coach is the focal point one game into a series. “Part of the business,” he mentioned at his Thursday press conference. Right.

First, it was the LeBron James thing.

One minute, Vogel was answering an innocent question with an innocent answer about the Miami Heat being the next team in line, and the next minute, he had supposedly insulted the defending champions, and their ancestors, and their ancestors’ ancestors. He was getting called out by the greatest player in the universe, and in the headlines from Seattle to St. Petersburg.

Now, it’s the Roy Hibbert thing.

His inner coaching computer spewed forth the conclusion to remove his best rim protector from the game in the late stages of overtime Wednesday night. Two LeBron layups and a one-point loss later, the outside world has pretty much decided his computer developed a systems malfunction. So did  several of his players.

“We’re a together group. We challenge each other,” Vogel were saying Thursday. “I’m 100 percent fine with that.”

Good thing there is not one of those inexplicable four-day NBA layoffs before Game 2, which would give everyone a chance to talk this matter to death. Instead, the next tipoff beckons today.

So there isn’t much time to overly obsess on how James had Hibbert-free open air to drive to the basket in the final 10 seconds of overtime. Not once, but twice. How Hibbert might have stopped him, or at least bothered him, but not from the bench.

“I would say we’ll probably have him in next time,” Vogel said in the postgame press conference. Admirable candor, but a little like closing the barn door after Game 1 got out.

Let’s put this one to rest.

Yes, this was an example of the no-win, no-margin-for-error scenario the Heat present opposing coaches. There are so many Miami weapons, and only so many bodies to stop them.

And yes, while the buzz is all about Hibbert or no Hibbert, too easily forgotten are the 20 turnovers and the 4-for-19 shooting by George Hill and Lance Stephenson. Those numbers are no way to beat Miami.

And yes, Paul George first allowing James to receive the pass, and then overplaying him didn’t do wonders for Vogel’s strategy. As always, no coaching goof is without accomplices in uniform.

And yes, it is possible to see the coaching train of thought — even if it ended in a train wreck — that Chris Bosh’s ability to roam out on the floor for a jump shot would be a problem for Hibbert. “All I will say,” Vogel said, “is it was a sound plan.”

But here’s the thing. An open 17-foot Bosh jumper to win the game might elicit a second guess or two but not nearly as many as an unhindered James layup. That is the very last item on the defense’s wish list.

Oh, well. Vogel is neither inept nor a dunce. Just a coach who out-thought himself. Besides, there are other more pressing issues.

Clearly, the Pacers are of the mind they can inflict defeats on the Heat. They just nearly did, without their “A” game. “Our belief in our ability to beat this team,” Vogel said Thursday, “is strengthened after Game 1.”

But conventional wisdom holds that the best time to steal a road game against a favorite is the series opener. It tends to get harder after that. The Pacers say they’ll play better in Game 2, but the Heat might, too.

The natural question: Who’s playing defense the next time Miami is down one point in the final seconds?

Vogel’s Thursday answer: “Stay tuned.”

People will. This series is torrid already. Nobody understands that more than Frank Vogel.

Mike Lopresti is a former writer for USA Today.