Basketball is a game that starts at the top of your roster. Whoever has the best single player on the floor has a decided advantage.
Not only did Miami have the best single player on the floor tonight against the Bobcats, but they have it every single night with LeBron James. And it was rather easy to see as he dominated Charlotte for a masterful 30 points on 18 shots with seven assists. The Bobcats put up valiant team efforts to combat his scoring, but James' ability to easily switch between a face-up dribble-drive offense and working in the post gave the Heat buckets almost at will. This is just who LeBron James is at this point, at his peak or somewhere in the vicinity. He can have difficult nights, but defenses have to be incredibly smart about rotations to still be able to cover the rest of the Heat. So unless you're the Spurs, well, godspeed. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist struggled in a scoring role matched up against the half-man half-demigod, but was the best at making LeBron work harder for his scoring opportunities. His strength and defensive savvy made him the Bobcats' best defender against him.
Still, as good as LeBron is, the Heat have to get good returns on their other players to be successful. At times, that just didn't happen for them. The Bobcats had very good moments in the second and third quarter defending Miami as a team. Dwyane Wade didn't make a single shot after the Heat's initial possession, nor did he score after the first quarter. Watching him miss the mark on runners and in the post made it pretty clear why the Heat had originally wanted to rest him on back-to-backs. The rest of the Heat filled in pretty well in the first quarter as the team jumped out to an early 10-point lead led by James' 11 points in the quarter. The Bobcats couldn't take advantage of the open shots they found so Miami's paltry scoring balance crushed Charlotte in the first quarter.
The second quarter fared much better for the Bobcats, though digging yourself out of an early hole against the defending champs, injury-addled or not, is a tough situation to face. With LeBron resting, the Bobcats tried to take advantage of a lineup consisting of Roger Mason Jr, Dwyane Wade, Michael Beasley, Rashard Lewis and Joel Anthony. Surprise! They did! The Bobcats' role players outdueled Miami's in the second quarter to start a comeback attempt. The main brunt of it was shouldered by the fun Josh McRoberts-Jeff Taylor duo. McRoberts had a god-awful shooting night (3-for-10 on field goals, 0-for-6 on threes) but he compensated somewhat with a nine assists. Two of those came to Taylor on a corner three and an inside dish for a Taylor layup. Though Taylor wasn't nearly as good a defensive matchup against LeBron's strength and pump fakes, his jump shooting gave him more minutes. Ramon Sessions also contributed in the second with a three and a layup off a McRoberts assist.
The half ended with an 8-0 Bobcats run as Charlotte held Miami scoreless for the last two minutes and forced Miami into turnovers. Gerald Henderson hit a three and a midrange shot and Kemba closed the quarter with a buzzer-beating three to pull the Bobcats within four points.
The third quarter pretty much had the game in the balance. The Bobcats offense threatened to have its trademark struggles, but managed to get by on Kemba Walker's sudden resurgence in shooting and ability to draw fouls by driving into the paint. His aggressiveness served the Bobcats well as he scored all of the Bobcats points but two in the first six minutes or so in the third quarter. Unfortunately, it served to just hold off the inevitable with the rest of the Bobcats unable to get the little leather ball into the slightly larger metal hoop. Henderson, who had nine points in the second quarter, had zero in the third. Chris Bosh awoke and score all of his seven points in the quarter. Bosh fought foul trouble all night and earned a technical for his verbal concerns. LeBron played the entire third quarter and helped at the end to get the bench players in rhythm as the team prepared to close out a Bobcats team with a struggling offense.
And oh how sad it was to see that work. LeBron put in four minutes of work to begin the fourth quarter and then had his curtain call. Miami closed out the Bobcats with a combination of Norris Cole, Roger Mason Jr, Michael Beasley, Rashard Lewis, and Chris Andersen. Miami doubled their threes on the night in the final quarter and got a ton of defensive energy in the paint from Andersen, who had two blocks. Meanwhile, the Bobcats had two players who played all of the last 12 minutes: Josh McRoberts and Anthony Tolliver. So it's no wonder why Andersen tore them up inside. Biyombo, who had eight rebounds (two offensive), didn't play a single minute in the last quarter. Meanwhile, Tolliver had one of his worst scoring games, going 1-for-9 on the night. I mean, I get you want to space the floor, but maybe don't double down on using both stretch fours that are having bad shooting nights?
Anyway, watching a depleted Miami team shut down the Bobcats' hopes with their reserves was by far the worst part of a game that was otherwise fun to watch. The Bobcats held their own for a while against Miami and with any luck this is the beginning of Kemba Walker's turnaround after a horrendous shooting stretch.
Rookie Report: Uh, don't ask.
(But if you really want to know, he picked up a couple fouls within 90 seconds in the first quarter, didn't connect on two pick and pop midrange shots in the third quarter and was outrebounded on the offensive end despite getting good positioning. You can only do so much when it's one-on-three and everyone has the same rebounding angle, I suppose.)
BY THE WAY THIS HALFTIME SHOW HAPPENED
Holy crap. It's not often the halftime show is more attractive than the basketball game, but wow, that was it. And I'm not saying that to deride either team. That was just so weird I really want to see it in person. Long live P.T. Barnum.