MIAMI -- Despite being passed over for an All-Defensive team nod and finishing just 10th in Defensive Player of the Year voting, Roy Hibbert is a force protecting the basket. He anchored the best defensive team in the NBA that led the league in lowest field goal percentage allowed, lowest field goal percentage allowed in the restricted area, and best defensive rating. You want him on the floor to protect the basket.
So why wasn't Hibbert on the floor with 2.2 seconds left in overtime and the Indiana Pacers holding onto a one-point lead on the home floor of the defending NBA champions?
The Pacers were worried about LeBron James kicking the ball out to Chris Bosh for a midrange game-winner. Against the Atlanta Hawks and the New York Knicks in the first two rounds of the playoffs, Hibbert would have not agreed with coming out of the game in a situation like that. He could live with Kenyon Martin or Tyson Chandler being open for that shot. But with a weapon like Chris Bosh on the floor, you have to start weighing your defensive options.
Hibbert understands why he was out. Bosh hurts him and that defense with that shot. But if Hibbert is in the game and he does over commit to the drive by James, shouldn't a defensive rotation be in place to stop Bosh from getting a shot off?
"It should," Hibbert admitted after the Game 1 loss," but it can get too tense (to expect that rotation)."
The problem is the available options should have never included one of the best rim protectors in the league on the bench. You live with Chris Bosh catching the ball with a second remaining and firing up a jumper. You hope the defensive rotation is there because with 2.2 seconds left, you can over commit to the passing lanes and let the game clock be your sixth man.
"That's the dilemma they present when they have Chris Bosh at the five spot and his ability to space the floor," Pacers coach Frank Vogel said after the game. "We put a switching lineup in with the intent to switch, keep everything in front of us and try to go into or force a challenged jump shot.
We pushed up a little too much, LeBron was able to beat us off the bounce."
Defensive rotations were a problem all night for the Pacers. Someone on the Heat would come off the pick-and-roll, drive into the paint, Roy Hibbert would step up to stop the shot, and someone else on the Heat would be wide open under the basket. Chris Andersen feasted on this type of defensive lapse all night.
It wasn't the strategy. Hibbert was supposed to have backup against a Miami Heat team that has an extra weapon this season than last playoffs when these two teams faced off. They have that finisher underneath that Miami didn't have last season when the defense broke down. Joel Anthony isn't walking through that door and fumbling the shuffle pass. Rotations need to happen for the best defense in the league.
The only place the Heat could score consistently in Game 1 was in the restricted area. 60 of their 103 points came in the paint. They scored 58 of those in the restricted area, where they made 69.0 percent of their shots. They shot 27.2 percent everywhere else on the floor. The biggest moment when they needed someone to back up a potential Hibbert rotation inside, they didn't even have their anchor on the floor.
And it potentially cost them Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals.
"Obviously, with the way it worked out, you know, it would have been better to have Roy in the game," Vogel said. "But you don't know. If that happens, maybe Bosh is making the jumpshot, and we're all talking about that."
Or maybe we're talking about the game-winning block that Roy Hibbert made to win Game 1? But you don't know.