After starting Game 1 red hot with eight points on perfect 4-for-4 in fewer than 10 minutes, Al Jefferson limped to the locker room having aggravated his plantar fascia in his left foot.
Forced to make a decision, Jefferson received a couple numbing shots and played through it. He was clearly bothered by the injury and wasn't nearly as effective, though he still finished with 18 points.
After the game, Jefferson was in a walking boot and said he felt like he ripped something in his foot. Today he was still in the boot, sitting out from participating in a light workout and the Bobcats said he would be re-evaluated before Game 2 on Wednesday.
It's painful to think but even if Al Jefferson's a step back from top form -- or, heaven forbid, out for Game 2 or longer -- the Bobcats' chances to steal a game, the Bobcats are pretty much screwed.
As we saw in Game 1, it looked like the Bobcats pretty much ran out of gas late in the game. Charlotte's early lead was erased in the second quarter and the Bobcats played catch up with momentum on Miami's side from then on. But the game got out of hand in the fourth quarter as the defense struggled and the offense stalled as the Heat pushed their lead to 20 points.
Clifford made one last gas to attempt to stem the tide, putting Kemba Walker, Gerald Henderson and Jefferson back in as the Heat started their run about two minutes into the final period. Jefferson would leave four and a half minutes later as the deficit worsened, the Bobcats' defense unable to regain the necessary focus.
And, honestly, that's where the trouble lies. When the Bobcats find themselves down and faltering late, they'll go to Jefferson. With Jefferson hobbled (he missed his only shot of the fourth quarter and missed entry passes), the Bobcats' slide turned into quicksand. Against Miami's offense and vicious, pressuring defense, the Bobcats lost focus on both sides. Their offense offered five turnovers in the fourth and the defense allowed three offensive rebounds to Miami as they put in buckets from around the floor.
With Jefferson struggling, the Bobcats have little hope, which is an already optimistic sentence in itself. Walker said he'd have to step up, but Charlotte really needs Jefferson's offense to tear up Miami's interior defense and to keep focus off of Walker and Henderson.
If nothing else, the Bobcats should clearly know their margin for error going forward as it's already nearly as slim as can be. Turnovers plagued Charlotte at the worst time as Miami gave up only one in the fourth, and no more than two in any quarter. Playoff execution is huge and for a team with so little experience, they need Al Jefferson's reliability in the worst way.