I had been expecting this game.
The Heat did what they needed to win, which was to shut down the Bobcats' limited offense, and they put the clamps on as they rolled to a double-digit victory with saddening ease. But I had thought Miami would do that in Game 2. Instead it came tonight, to the chagrin of the home crowd, which was energized early.
As was the case in the first game of the series, the Bobcats started off strong. Against weak entry-pass defense, Al Jefferson posted 15 first-quarter points. As someone who's had plantar fasciitis, I don't care what pain medication he's getting. For him to score and play as he did in the first quarter was incredible.
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist had a nice start to the game, too. As did Kemba Walker. And Gerald Henderson! Are you noticing a pattern here?
Kemba Walker scored four of his 13 points and had four of his five total assists in the first quarter. Gerald Henderson scored four of his six points in the period. Kidd-Gilchrist didn't score a single point after the first 65 seconds of the game. And of Jefferson's 20 points, 15 of them came in the first quarter.
But we didn't know that was how it was going to be. The crowd was active and engaged as the Bobcats held LeBron James' starting supporting cast to 10 total points. Udonis Haslem jump shots are something Charlotte shouldn't even bother defending arduously, so giving up that's no big deal.
But Chris Andersen's six points in the last three minutes of the quarter was a bit harder to swallow. He had a solid performance on the glass and around the basket in general, finishing with 12 points and seven rebounds. The Bobcats defense takes care of the rim well, especially when it comes to a player who's committed to attacking it. But what happens when you have a player like LeBron who can attack the rim and make split-second passes to cutting players? Well, Birdman happens. With LeBron attacking the rim, he drew the Bobcats' main frontcourt defender (often Jefferson), which opened up short backdoor cut passes to Andersen.
From the second quarter on, Miami's defense ratcheted up to the occasion and forced Charlotte into uncomfortable territory.
In the Heat's biggest offensive quarter, they got early contributions from Chris Bosh and Ray Allen (including his first three of the series), but all Charlotte's offense could muster was the equivalent of a younger brother whiffing on wild punches as his older brother holds him at arm's length via his hand on Charlotte's head.
The Cody Zeller Experience was in full effect tonight, by which I mean it was extremely uncomfortable. Bless McRoberts' heart, but so many passes he tried to force to Zeller seemed impossible or close to it against a defense as aggressive as Miami's in the playoffs.
Chris Douglas-Roberts and McRoberts gave honorable efforts, but ones that would ultimately go down in vain. The Bobcats' defense couldn't contain LeBron James to close out the half and the ground dissolved beneath them with that evident. James scored the last 9 points of the half for Miami. He can simply be a freight train when he gets any momentum and, hell, he deserves his own paragraph. Hold on.
Hey everyone, this is the LeBron James paragraph. I'm sorry to do this because I'm sure some folks are sick of watching him on SportsCenter or something, but watching him play is so impressive. His passing and scoring skills are so spot-on and instinctual, it's uncanny. To watch him redirect passes as alley-oops with ease or to complete behind-the-back cross-court passes, it's just not fair. And then you watch him shoot jumpers -- and not just wide-open ones, but contested ones, too -- and I can't even imagine how much more frustrating it is to try to defend that than to watch it. Phew.
Anyway, the Bobcats were down 12 at halftime, 58-46. It might have been closer but Gerald Henderson committed a stupid foul with 0.2 seconds left, undercutting LeBron on a three following his steal on a sloppy inbounds pass.
It would get a bit worse from there.
Following the first quarter, the Bobcats were unable to get the ball to Al Jefferson, for whatever reason. The Heat did a better job defending the entry pass and double-teaming him once he got the ball, but they also did a good job forcing turnovers. Charlotte's offense had no foundation and effectively wavered on every possession as they tried to find solid footing. It took an entire half of the third quarter for Charlotte to get a made field goal.
By the time the Bobcats' offense starting hitting some shots, it was pretty much too late. James and Wade had combined to bury the Bobcats under a 20-point lead.
Twenty-point deficits in the playoffs are nearly unassailable. Rationally speaking, you can go ahead and throw out that "nearly" when your opponent is the Heat. Miami has managed to control their turnovers so well and execute so well on offense while maintaining a suffocating defense, comebacks with such a limited roster are nigh on impossible.
And so that brings to me to the conclusion that the Heat are just a better team, which we -- and everyone else -- had already known. Miami's roster has its flaws. The Bobcats just aren't talented enough at the top or from top-to-bottom to exploit it. We knew this coming into the series as a 7 seed, and it is what it is.
This settled in well before the fourth quarter. "We're getting closer--" my father remarked to me as Al Jefferson made a layup to cut Miami's lead to 20 at the end of the third quarter, "--to the end of the game."
It was a forgone conclusion at that point. The Bobcats hacked into the deficit with CDR and Gary Neal, like Miami was particularly concerned. Then LeBron came back in, cementing what we already knew. The gates opened and out came Jannero Pargo and Bismack Biyombo and D.J. White and Toney Douglas.
The final score was Bismack Biyombo: 1 point, Shane Battier: 0 points. Go Bobcats.