The Charlotte Bobcats’ last chance of winning this playoff series expired in the third quarter Saturday night when LeBron James stripped Josh McRoberts of the ball and headed downcourt for a thunderous dunk.
That slam put the Miami Heat up by 19 points and on its way to its 19th straight victory against a Bobcats team that showed up for an energized first quarter and then deflated the rest of the night.
Now down 3-0 in their best-of-7 series against the two-time defending champions, the Bobcats gave their most disappointing home-game performance in their most important home game of the season. An arena full of hyped-up fans wearing white giveaway T-shirts turned morose quickly as the Bobcats unfurled all their problems at once in a 98-85 Miami win.
Here are eight quick thoughts about this series, Saturday night’s game and the Bobcats’ future:
1. For all that coach Steve Clifford and his team said about not caring who Charlotte’s opponent was in the first-round series, the opponent has mattered a great deal. Catching a healthy Heat team in full stride was a terrible break. It turns out that playing No. seed Indiana would have been far better.
2. The series has pointed out several flaws for Charlotte, and one of them is what the Bobcats get from Gerald Henderson (six points, two rebounds Saturday). While quite athletic, Henderson is ultimately a shooting guard who doesn’t shoot well enough.
This is a position that needs an upgrade. Henderson’s turnover and the silly foul he immediately committed that resulted in three free throws for LeBron at the end of the first half was only the latest evidence. That misplay was one of many that helped the Bobcats “butcher” the last few minutes of the second quarter, to use Clifford’s word.
3. After his 22-point, 10-rebound performance in the second playoff game, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist looked like he usually does in the third game.
While his defense against LeBron (30 points, 10 rebounds) was occasionally laudable, MKG got stripped of the ball several times on what should have been sure layups. With three points on 1-for-6 shooting, he was once again an offensive liability. Rookie Cody Zeller was just as bad when he got the ball down low. Zeller again had all kinds of trouble finishing the play and had zero points in 15 minutes.
4. Clifford goes to extreme lengths not to play backup center Bismack Biyombo when the game is in doubt these days. Between MKG, Zeller and Biyombo, the Bobcats got a grand total of four points from three of their lottery picks over the past three years on Saturday night.
5. If you are a fan of the local NFL and NBA franchises and are having a feeling of deja vu today, that makes sense. You have indeed felt this hollow feeling before.
Remember the Carolina Panthers’ home playoff loss three months ago against San Francisco? Or the Panthers in 2009 against Arizona? Or the Bobcats’ two home losses against Orlando in 2010?
You have to go a decade back to January 2004 to find a playoff game that the home Charlotte NFL or NBA team has actually won – that came when the Panthers whipped the Dallas Cowboys, 29-10, on the way to the Super Bowl.
6. What little the Bobcat home crowd did have to cheer about was mostly due to Al Jefferson, battling a foot injury and still scoring 15 first-quarter points. Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said disgustedly on ESPN at beginning of second quarter that the first quarter had looked like a “warmup shootaround” for Jefferson and that the Heat would start double-teaming him more and denying him the ball.
It worked. Jefferson only scored five more points – his injury makes him a “shell of himself,” Clifford said, but still a good enough shell to score 20 points. And the rest of the Bobcats could not pick up the slack.
7. When the Heat shoots 3-pointers like it did Saturday – Miami was 9-for-18 even with several garbage-time misses in the final minutes – the Bobcats have no shot. Charlotte needs Miami to shoot 25 percent from three-point range, not 50 percent, to beat the Heat even once.
8. Charlotte has one more home playoff game left – on Monday night against Miami – and there won’t be any more this season after that. If the Bobcats do somehow snap their 19-game losing streak to Miami in that one, there’s no way Charlotte will beat the Heat in Miami on Wednesday in Game 5.
But one victory Monday night would at least salvage some credibility for the Bobcats, who are squandering some of the respect they worked so hard to attain during the regular season. Of the 16 NBA playoff teams, the Bobcats are the only one that has yet to win a postseason game.
And a win Monday would be a nice going-away present for the Bobcats’ fans, who will see the team resurrect the popular “Hornets” nickname next season. But those fans deserve more than that.
I’d say one playoff win per decade is not an unfair demand.