It would have been nice if Coach Frank Vogel’s ejection in the fourth quarter inspired the Pacers to finish their comeback and triumph against the Suns last night. We’ve seen it happen in the NBA before. Some coaches, like Don Nelson, Doc Rivers and Rick Carlisle, have been known to willingly get ejected in order to show their team that they will stand up for them in an “us against the world” sort of way. Maybe that’s what Vogel was going for last night. It would have been nice if it worked.
But it didn’t work, and in retrospect it was incredibly poor timing. For those of you who didn’t see the play, Vogel received his second technical after Paul George knocked the the ball loose from Steve Nash and dove on it to call a timeout only to have the referees call a jump ball. Vogel had some justification for his protest; George seemed to have much more control of the ball then either of the Suns grabbing for it. He also likely wanted to make sure his players understood that he appreciated the hustle.
But he took his protest too far and was ejected from the game with 1:56 left to play. After trailing for most of the second half, the Pacers had come within four points only to have to execute the most crucial moments without their coach and leader.
Not to say that the Pacers gave up hope after losing Vogel, they fought hard until the last seconds ticked off. That may be why the ejection was so frustrating. The hustle and attack was there in the last minutes, but the play calling and defensive schemes were missing.
The fact that the Pacers are a young team with a relatively inexperienced point guard in Darren Collinson means that the late-game play calling becomes extremely important. The Suns may not be the most talented team in the league, but they have a handful of veterans, namely Steve Nash, who know how to execute in late-game situations.
It’s understood that Steve Nash will push the ball and attack the open space in the defense (whether that be by driving or by a pinpoint pass) in the last minute of the game the same way he would in the first quarter. This is why many coaches in the league use a consistent defensive scheme on him for the majority of the game and often show him something different in the last moments of the fourth quarter. This way Nash will have to reexamine the defense and, if not settle for a more difficult shot then at least a different look than what they have been getting all game.
The Pacers’ inability to make any key stops in the last two minutes are what really cost them the game. Anyone who has watched this team all season would agree that if they score 111 points in a game they should win. Vogel’s inability to keep his composure is at least partly to blame for the Pacers’ lack of defensive execution down the stretch.
When it comes down to it there are really two acceptable situations for a coach to get ejected from a game: Early in the game when all the calls are going against his team as a legitimate way to show the referees that the officiating needs to change OR in a game where his team is so far behind that there is little risk and only good could come from it.
1:56 left in a four-point game is not either of those situations. In a tight playoff race, Coach Vogel needs to keep his cool, so that his team can keep theirs.
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