Back in 2013, Lakers’ coach Frank Vogel’s Indiana Pacers gave LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and the Eric Spoelstra led Miami Heat hell for seven games in the Eastern Conference Finals. The Heat won the series 4–3 and went on to win the 2013 NBA Championship but not before the Pacers fought them for every rebound, basket, and play in that series. Vogel, who was famously blamed in that series for the Pacers falling short, was humble afterwards; yet refreshing.
“And we represent all the right things — class, character, hard work, old-school basketball,” he said at the time of his team, “playing the game the right way. We represented our franchise, our city and our state extremely, extremely well, and we have a lot to be proud of.”
This year, Spoelstra and Vogel meet again and the tables have turned. Vogel now has the star studded lineup. He has LeBron James and Anthony Davis; Spoelstra has the workhorse team with the ultimate lunchpail baller, Jimmy Butler. It is Spolestra who most agree will have to overcome talent with hard work and efficiency.
Of all the stories in the Finals, this one is not talked about much. Vogel wants this bad. He did a great job in his years in Indiana and he also began like Spoelstra, as a video coordinator in the NBA (for the Boston Celtics). Vogel is now well positioned to take that next step and become a NBA Finals champion coach. His career record in the NBA is 356–310 and that includes the two throwaway years in Orlando.
Overall, a few critical moments in Game 1 are worth a mention. The game began and the Heat went up 23–10 early in the contest. Vogel called time out, didn’t panic, and eventually subbed LeBron James out like he would normally do in any game. Rajon Rondo entered the game, got the Lakers offense moving again, got shooters open looks, and the Lakers never looked back. They dominated the game from that point on. Davis got hot, Lakers got into a rhythm, and it was pretty ugly by the middle of third quarter as the Lakers’ lead went to as high as 28 points.
It was also crucial that the Lakers managed to get LeBron James into mismatches in the sequence. While it was talked about all week that with Jae Crowder, Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo, the Heat could switch the Davis-James pick and rolls, the Lakers went another way occasionally. Danny Green, guarded by Duncan Robinson, set screens for James. This forced switches in the game where Duncan Robinson had to guard James. James immediately went on the attack.
This tiny adjustment, which seems obvious in hindsight, is the kind of thing Spoelstra will correct in the next game, I am sure. The series is only 1–0. It is still anyone’s series. But, Frank Vogel is only three wins away from not only NBA Finals nirvana but also payback for the misery of 2013 when his Pacer team, fell just short of beating the mighty Miami Heat. This is especially a big deal because back then the Heat were the best of the best.