Turns out the day-after film study for the Charlotte Bobcats was pretty encouraging.
Despite the Bobcats trailing the Miami Heat by as much as 20 points in the second half, the team saw positive aspects in their 99-88 loss in Game 1 of a best-of-7 playoff series: They got off to a great start (shooting 58 percent in the first quarter and building as much as a nine-point lead) and they opened the third quarter on a 10-0 run to briefly re-take the lead.
“What we saw on the film shows we were right there,” said center Al Jefferson. “Miami is a good team, but when we’re right, we’re good, too. We’re here for a reason.”
Which is true…to a point. Sunday illustrated that the defending NBA champions can play an off game in the playoffs and still win. The Bobcats’ margin for error is far smaller.
For instance the Bobcats will have little chance in any game like Sunday, when they finish a game having committed more turnovers (15 to the Heat’s nine) and more fouls ((17 to Miami’s 12). The Bobcats were best in the NBA in those two categories in the regular season, what coach Steve Clifford calls a “clean” game.
Clifford knew minimizing turnovers against the Heat would be tough. It was second in the NBA in steals (8.9 per game) and is particular adept at converting opponents’ turnovers into points. The Heat scored 20 off 15 Charlotte turnovers Sunday.
“They take care of the ball,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said of the Bobcats before the game Sunday. “We try to make people extremely uncomfortable.”
Clifford needs his players to adapt to all that ball-hawking: “It’s not just talent,” Clifford said of the Heat’s success, “They play with as much purpose as any team in the league.
“Their defensive habits are every pass is contested – pressure on the passing lanes every time.”
Rotation shifts? Sounds like if Clifford tweaks his rotation any between games 1 and 2, it will be minor. Clifford said usually such changes don’t bench one player to play another, but rather a few less or more minutes for each player each game.
Clifford said he and his staff have a fairly set rotation in the first half, then reevaluate at halftime based on how players are doing.
It seems inevitable guard Gary Neal will have a growing role in this series. He’s one of the few Bobcats with major playoff experience (with the San Antonio Spurs) and he scored 17 points Sunday off 7-of-16 shooting. Clifford tends to lean more toward defense in the first half (i.e. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist), then more offense in the second half.
Rick Bonnell: (704) 358-5129; Twitter: @rick_bonnell