On Day 1 of the NBA playoffs, three lower seeds upset the home crowd and took a crucial road win.
The Miami Heat made sure that trend didn't continue on Sunday afternoon. Coming into the 2014 NBA playoffs as the two-time defending champions, the Heat showed both tenacity and poise while easily dismissing the Charlotte Bobcats, 99-88, to take a 1-0 series lead.
The Heat take Game 1 with a 99-88 win over the Bobcats! LeBron finished with 27 points and 9 rebounds in the win pic.twitter.com/me1ZVvuMFm— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) April 20, 2014
LeBron James paced the Heat with 27 points and nine rebounds to go along with Dwyane Wade's brilliant performance. Wade rested for much of the season and it clearly paid off in the first game of the series, as he finished with 23 points and led the team with five assists.
As for Charlotte, Al Jefferson controlled the paint in the early going with 18 points and 10 rebounds, but a plantar fascia injury early in the contest would hamper the big man.
His partner in crime, Kemba Walker, tallied 20 points, six assists and five rebounds in the loss. After the game, he spoke about the team's turnaround this season and what this series means for the Bobcats, per Scott Fowler of The Charlotte Observer:
Can the Heat get the three-peat?
"The world is about to get a chance to change their minds about us," Walker said. "The last couple of years we've been bad. Now we've got a whole new team and a chance to shock the world."
While the Heat are in search of their third straight title, the Bobcats are in the playoffs for just the second time in franchise history. That inexperience didn't show early on, as Charlotte jumped out to an early 21-14 lead with 2:10 remaining in the first quarter.
Much of the Heat's struggles came on the offensive end, as the team shot just 38 percent from the field to that point. The Bobcats' official Twitter account pointed out the disparity between the two teams offensively:
Miami coach Erik Spoelstra spoke about the Bobcats' defense before the opening tip, per Ethan J. Skolnick of Bleacher Report:
Spoelstra: "Their defensive system is very definitive, it's very much like Chicago's."— Ethan J. Skolnick (@EthanJSkolnick) April 20, 2014
Joseph Goodman of The Miami Herald shared his thoughts on the Heat offense early in the first quarter:
Zero offensive rhythm for the Heat to start the 2014 playoffs. Timeout Spoelstra. Bobcats 12, Heat 7 7:06 1Q— Joseph Goodman (@JoeGoodmanJr) April 20, 2014
All in all, the Heat would trail by just four points following the first quarter, as the Bobcats offense stalled out. Miami finished the first quarter shooting 39 percent, but were still within reach of the lead.
The offensive woes Charlotte experienced to close were mostly due to the loss of Jefferson after an injury. Jefferson would return in the second quarter, as the Bobcats' account notes:
UPDATE: Al Jefferson with a left plantar fascia strain - he will return #HEATvBOBCATS— Charlotte Bobcats (@bobcats) April 20, 2014
For all of their offensive mishaps in the first frame, the tide turned for the Heat in the second quarter as they went on a 19-2 run midway through that was capped off by a huge transition layup by James Jones.
The sporadic offense for Charlotte was the story in the second quarter, as the Bobcats couldn't hit shots with the same accuracy as they did in the first.
ESPN Stats & Info points out the lack of production for the Bobcats after getting off to a hot start:
Bobcats started 10 for 14 from field, are 5 for last 20— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) April 20, 2014
Following a rough period of play for the Bobcats, they came out of the gate in the second half on fire to take an early lead, but the Heat bounced back quickly. Miami continued to throttle Charlotte late in the third, but held just a seven-point lead heading into the fourth quarter.
Miami quickly opened that lead up to 10 points with 9:34 remaining, but it wouldn't come without a highlight-reel dunk by none other than Josh McRoberts over Chris Anderson.
That would be the final huge play for the Bobcats as the Heat cruised down the stretch for the convincing victory. Even with James on the bench throughout nearly the entire fourth quarter, Charlotte was no match for Miami.
James also set a historic benchmark with his scoring, passing Larry Bird on the postseason-points list, per NBA History:
With 2 min left in the 4th Q @KingJames hit a FT to pass Larry Bird (3,897 career playoff points) for 8th all time in career playoff scoring— NBA History (@NBAHistory) April 20, 2014
After claiming the series opener over the Bobcats, the Heat now carry momentum into Game 2 in Miami. And with James getting plenty of rest in the fourth quarter, the team is even more fresh than expected.
With the next game in the series coming on Wednesday at 7 p.m. ET on TNT, the Bobcats catch a break as Jefferson will have a few extra days to rest the injury he sustained. But even with Jefferson playing at the top of his game, the task is a daunting one for Charlotte to overcome against Miami.
A huge game from Wade clearly signals the start of the playoffs, but the Heat will need him to continue his hot start in the second game. If Jefferson is at 100 percent, Wade's presence outside of the paint will be crucial to Miami's success.
Like a prizefighter, the Heat clearly saved their best for the end of the season. And with all cylinders firing at the right time, don't expect any hiccups from the two-time champions.
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