Pacers' Failure Of Execution & Leadership Occurred Well Before Game 3
This isn't meant to completely dismiss the concern for in-game, halftime and between game adjustments during this series But, between Vogel, Larry Bird and the rest of the organization, there are bigger mistakes to to answer for. It basically boils down to this: despite knowing all off-season and especially since Derrick Rose was reinjured early in the year, the Pacers knew they needed to go through Miami, and every single move should have been made with that in mind.
When considering changes, whether roster additions, or lineup and schematic experimentation, "how will this work against the Heat in the playoffs" should have been at or near the top of the list of decision criteria. This never really happened.
I'm not going to harp on the Luis Scola trade too much from a "value" perspective. Most of the criticism of that deal those terms is freighted with a dollop of hugely hindsight* Still, it is fair to wonder about the opportunity cost of that deal. Could that pick plus Danny Granger's expiring contract have netted Indiana, Arron Afflalo (while perhaps taking on Glen Davis' contract as well?) Maybe. Further, how does Scola help against Miami? I'm sure the thought process was "find a guy who can carry the scoring burden for the second unit where we can hide his defensive deficiencies against bench players." Which is fine in theory. Except the "hiding on defense" thing hasn't really happened against Miami. Still, Scola hasn't been a disaster, and would have been a perfectly fine addition if he was doing everything (shoot, pass, not turn the ball over, get to the free throw line) just a little better and more in line with his career norms.
Similarly, though I disliked the pick immensely, it's hard to fault the choice of Solomon Hill in the draft too much. At that spot, Indiana had a choice of 3 potential "3&D wing players" and though I would have preferred Reggie Bullock at the time, and Tim Hardaway, Jr. had a better season, that's pure hindsight. Bullock did very little for the Clippers anyway, and it's not difficult to imagine Hardaway being completely buried as his extensive defensive deficiencies became more clear to Vogel.
However, the Pacers two big in season moves are incomprehensible in a Beat The Heat-centric world. Andrew Bynum, in addition to being more or less done based on his stint in Cleveland, and being a possible malcontent besides that does what for that matchup? Was he really brought in to possibly supplant Roy Hibbert or even back him up, despite Mahinmi's extremely solid defensive contributions? The scuttlebutt at the time was that Indiana in fact signed Bynum so Miami couldn't. Which rings false, but if it is true, is a silly decision. If Miami was going to matchup with Indy by trying to get bigger and go toe-to-toe bullyball with the Pacers, Bird should have sat in the seat next to Bynum in first class to make sure Andrew made it to South Beach.
And Evan Turner. Yeah. I have evidence of my reaction at the time:
And that's just the personnel decisions. Whether by Vogel's choice or organizational mandate, the Pacers seldom broke from their extremely traditional two bigs, two wings and a point lineups. There was very little experimentation during the season, so when faced by the undersized and outmanned Hawks and their five-man firedrill offense, Indiana had not other looks they had practiced to go to. Which ended up being fine against Atlanta because talent. But it would certainly be useful against Miami to have another option to go to if Miami is lacerating Indiana's conventional looks.
Perhaps the biggest failing in terms of not looking ahead was the minute load. No unit in the NBA played as much as the Hill/Stephenson/George/West/Hibbert starting 5, with only Portland's top 5 coming close. While Miami was husbanding Wade's minutes, Indiana was playing their top guys big minutes night after night, even when sitting them might have been prudent. Ir's probably no accident that the Heat in general and Wade in particular have been able to close games - they simply have fresher legs.
In the end, the Pacers may have been so focused on simply reaching the rematch with the Heat that they forgot to plan for what happened when that day of reckoning arrived. So while not being able to decipher a problem that has stumped the rest of league in the moment tonight is understandable, Indiana has had the better part of 9 months to cram for this test, and that lack of proper preparation is where the real failure lies.
As to the first round pick the Pacers used on that deal, first round picks are valuable. But not THAT valuable. For a team in "win now" mode as the Pacers appeared to be, that pick had a less than 1 in 4 chance of turning into a player even as good as Scola's disappointing performance this year.