Paul George earns specific praise too.
April 27, 2011, 1:58 pm
On Frank Vogel and Coaching Audacity
By ROB MAHONEY
The Indiana Pacers’ season is finished, and the Chicago Bulls are moving on to their rightful place in the conference semifinals. Even after an unexpectedly competitive series, all things are as they should be: Derrick Rose emerged a hero, Indiana met its fate in just five games, and Chicago has begun rounding into form for the postseason’s more treacherous later rounds.
Although Rose was the series’ single most powerful force, the intrigue of the Bulls-Pacers matchup came not from what he did, but what he was prevented from doing. Indiana’s Paul George played remarkable, relentless defense against Rose, and showcased his potential for disrupting ball handlers of any speed or size. Rose’s late-game performances will dominate most retrospectives on the series, but it was George’s defense that made this a series to begin with; if not for George’s hounding Rose at every turn, the Pacers would have been eaten alive.
This series was marked by not only George’s true arrival on the N.B.A. scene after a rocky rookie season, but also that of Frank Vogel, the Pacers’ interim coach for 38 games. Everything that George accomplished in this series was possible because of his coach’s insight, preparation and audacity.
Vogel had the nerve to allow George, a rookie swingman who had played 61 games as a pro, and started just 19 times, to defend Rose, the league’s likely most valuable player. More important, Vogel didn’t overreact to Rose’s 39-point and 36-point games — both Pacer losses – to start the series, as he stuck to the game plan that had given his team a fighting chance.
Desperation can act as a siren’s call to some, but Vogel was having none of it. Four of the games in this series ended in a coin flip as a result of Vogel’s strategic commitment, a great triumph for a No. 8 seed contending with what many thought to be the best team in the league.
On Tuesday morning, hours before Indy’s playoff exit, Vogel offered his take on the Pacers’ remaining games against the Bulls:“We feel like if we win this game tonight, we’ll win the series.”It was brash, perhaps, but no more so than assigning an inconsistent rookie to guard Rose. Vogel has such a natural confidence about him and, as he showed in this series, has the coaching ingenuity to match. He was merely that convinced of his team’s ability, and after the way Indiana had played in the first four games, he had every right to be.
On Tuesday, Steve Aschburner of NBA.com called for Larry Bird to remove the interim label from Vogel’s coaching status, and he certainly seems deserving. Indiana surged into the playoffs only after Vogel took over for Jim O’Brien.
The Pacers fought hard in the first round in his system and under his instruction, and were aided by his matchup choices and rotation decisions. Vogel formulated an effective game plan, imbued his players with confidence and pushed a limited roster about as far as one could reasonably expect it to go.
Indiana’s players deserve credit for their effort and execution throughout the series, but Vogel proved himself to be a resourceful coach who doesn’t just put his players in position to succeed but also discovers new avenues to success.