Heat 101, Bobcats 97

Miami Heat defense, LeBron James' 32 put Charlotte Bobcats in 2-0 hole

rbonnell@charlotteobserver.comApril 23, 2014 

— The Miami Heat held the Charlotte Bobcats without a shot in a crucial late-game possession to preserve a 101-97 victory and take a 2-0 lead in this best-of-7 playoff series.

Heat forward LeBron James finished with 32 points, eight assists and six rebounds. Bobcats forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist had his best game of the season, finishing with 22 points and 10 rebounds.

Bobcats center Al Jefferson, playing through a left foot injury, finished with 18 points and 13 rebounds.

The Bobcats pulled within three points of the Heat at 97-94 with 1 minute, 42 seconds left on Jefferson’s six-foot jump shot in the lane. That was set up when Kidd-Gilchrist drew an offensive foul from Heat guard Dwyane Wade.

Shortly before that, Bobcats guard Gerald Henderson fouled out, replaced by Chris Douglas-Roberts. Douglas-Roberts took what would have been a tying 3-pointer with just over a minute left, but it fell off the rim. Josh McRoberts fouled James at the rim. Replays indicated McRoberts’ elbow struck James in the throat.

James made two free throws. Bobcats guard Kemba Walker missed an ensuing layup, but James threw a pass out of bounds to give the Bobcats back the ball, down four with 20.6 seconds left.

Walker nailed a 3-pointer with just over 10 seconds left, then Gary Neal fouled James, who hit both free throws to push Miami’s lead back to three.

The Bobcats didn’t get off a shot the following possession. Neal turned down a 3-pointer, passing to Douglas-Roberts, who was trapped in a corner for a turnover.

The Heat got two free throws for Dwyane Wade and possession to end the game when McRoberts was called for a clear-path foul.

The Bobcats trimmed a 10-point deficit to as little as four points, coming on Jefferson’s 18-foot jump shot at 66-62. Jefferson had a big third quarter, scoring 10 points off 5-of-10 shooting, and grabbing six rebounds.

Bobcats coach Steve Clifford indicated pre-game he might go more to rookie forward-center Cody Zeller, looking for offense. That’s what he did, not using regular backup center Bismack Biyombo in either of his usual rotations.

The Heat used exceptional takeaway defense to lead by as much as 16 in the first half. They entered halftime ahead 57-47.

Jefferson played and started after suffering a left plantar fascia injury in Game 1 Sunday that left him in a protective boot Monday through Wednesday pre-game.

Jefferson shot 3 of 10 in the first half and had to leave the game briefly to get treatment in the locker room. Clifford told TNT reporter Rachel Nichols that Jefferson may have further torn his plantar fascia, but he still returned to the game.

The Heat doubled him aggressively in the post area, and Jefferson never seemed to have the leverage and footwork to get to his favored spots on the floor with the ball. Only one of his three first-half baskets was at the rim, and that was a put-back of his own miss.

The Heat forced the Bobcats into 12 first-half turnovers, resulting in 18 Miami points. The Heat was second in the NBA in steals in the regular season and particularly adept at converting opponent turnovers into points.

The Bobcats committed the fewest turnovers in the NBA in the regular season at just over 12 per game. But turnovers were a big issue in their 11-point loss in Game 1 Sunday. That’s when Charlotte committed 15 turnovers, resulting in 20 Miami points.

The other problem Sunday was Kidd-Gilchrist’s foul trouble while guarding James. Sunday he picked up four fouls in just 15 minutes.

Game 2 started with a similar pattern. Kidd-Gilchrist had to go to the bench five minutes into the game with his second foul. The Heat led 29-19 entering the second quarter.

Clifford reinserted Kidd-Gilchrist early in the second quarter and it paid unexpected dividends. Not particularly known for his offense, Kidd-Gilchrist made his first six shots from the field and finished the first half with 15 points.

The Bobcats needed that offense because their top three guards – Walker, Henderson and Neal – were a combined 5 of 20 from the field.

With Jefferson limited in the post and the Heat so effective disrupting Charlotte’s passes and drives, the Bobcats reverted to a jump-shooting team, and not a particularly effective one.

The Heat did all the running in the first half, scoring eight fast-break points to the Bobcats’ zero.

This best-of-seven playoff series resumes Saturday night (7 p.m., ESPN and SportSouth) at Time Warner Cable Arena.

Bonnell: 704-358-5129; Twitter: @rick_bonnell

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