No other way to describe it: Guards Kemba Walker and Gerald Henderson have carried the Charlotte Bobcats through a 5-7 stretch.
Friday night, Walker and Henderson gave under that weight. The team’s top scorers and co-captains combined to shoot 5 of 31. That wasn’t going to beat anyone, no matter how depleted the Miami Heat was in topping the Bobcats 89-79.
The defending champions played without league Most Valuable Player LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Ray Allen. It didn’t matter: Miami’s fill-ins might have been old and creaky, but they shot better from 3-point range (39 percent) than the Bobcats did overall (32 percent).
Mike Miller, who is so beaten up he considered retirement after the Heat won the title last June, scored 26 points and made seven of 11 3s. The only Bobcat who played particularly well was rookie Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, who finished with 18 points and 14 rebounds.
Miller, Rashard Lewis and Udonis Haslem looked like they still had plenty of game.
“They’re carrying rings with them through these competitions,” Bobcats coach Mike Dunlap said of the Heat. “They won in San Antonio, and look who didn’t play (James and Wade).
“Somebody is going to have to beat them, because they don’t beat themselves.”
The Bobcats’ shooting particularly unraveled in the third quarter, when they scored eight points off 3 of 18 from the field. The Heat shaded its defense heavily toward Henderson in that quarter, and he missed all five of his shots.
“They’re a really good defensive team. They’re quick and so they make you make quick decisions,” said Henderson, who finished 2 of 16 for 11 points. “They give too much help and do it too well.”
Championship teams figure out what can beat them and neutralize that strength. Walker and Henderson have been the highest-scoring backcourt in the NBA since early March, averaging 42.3 points per game.
Friday Walker-Henderson totaled 23 points, fewer than Miller all by himself.
The shame of this is that shooting aside, the Bobcats played well. They took more free throws than Miami (22-17) and outrebounded the Heat (46-41), two areas Dunlap considered huge to his team’s chances.
“We had open 15-footers, we had open 3s. We played a really efficient game,” Dunlap said.
Particularly so for Kidd-Gilchrist, who hasn’t been all that consistent of late.
“Michael showed a lot of grit. He was really tough on the boards,” Dunlap said. “And he demanded the ball to go straight to the rim.”