Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra offered this revelation Monday about star forward LeBron James: “He’s not superhuman.”
Really? Didn’t look that way for long stretches of the second half. That’s when James scored 20 of his 31 points, constantly hitting just the sort of fadeaway jump shots the Bobcats would want him taking. Those shots, combined with six third-quarter turnovers by the Bobcats, added up to a 109-98 victory that clinched this first-round playoff series for Miami.
The Bobcats played without star center Al Jefferson, who sat out the game with ongoing soreness in his left arch. Remarkably they gave the Heat a game without Jefferson’s low-post scoring. Point guard Kemba Walker was spectacular with 29 points on 11-of-15 shooting, but not as spectacular as James.
James injured his right thigh early in the third quarter when he hit the knee of Bobcats center Bismack Biyombo. He hit the floor for several seconds and was booed by a Charlotte crowd apparently thinking James was milking the situation.
Don’t get this guy mad. He scored nine points the rest of the third quarter on 4-of-5 shooting. He carried the Heat on a night when the Bobcats outshot the defending NBA champions from the field, 51 percent to 50 percent.
James seemed intent on ending this one in a 4-0 sweep. The Bobcats are 0-8 all-time in playoff games, also having been swept by the Orlando Magic in 2010.
Bobcats coach Steve Clifford said he was proud of how Walker “wasn’t afraid of the moment.” Walker brushed off that praise, saying Monday was more about letting the Heat know they weren’t quitting just because Jefferson was out.
“We just wanted to compete. Everybody felt like we’d fall and not fight,” said Walker, who scored eight of the Bobcats’ first 10 points. “We wanted to give these guys a challenge and we did.”
Unfortunately, mistakes, ones so often magnified by the playoffs, did them in during the third quarter. The Bobcats’ six third-quarter turnovers (three by Gerald Henderson, two by Walker and one by Josh McRoberts) led to 15 of the Heat’s 32 points that period.
That’s not typical of how the Bobcats played in the regular season, when they were last in the NBA in turnovers. But Miami’s takeaway defense has that effect.
“That was a winnable game,” said Clifford. “But you can’t beat yourself with turnovers at one end and blown (defensive) coverages at the other end.”
Losing Jefferson robbed the Bobcats of 21 points per game. It also gave the Heat options late in the game that Clifford thinks they wouldn’t have otherwise had.
“With Al (playing), they can’t put (Chris) Bosh at (center). So that allowed them to put their five best offensive players out there together at the end,” Clifford described.
Still the Heat was in a real game, minus Jefferson, and that was mostly about Walker.
“You’ve got to make him burn as many calories as possible every possession,” Spoelstra said of Walker.
“He’s shifty. We tried to corral him, but that’s hard to do.”