The Charlotte Bobcats put up a fight in Game 1 of the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs, but they were dealt a big blow early in the first half when star center Al Jefferson went down with a plantar fascia injury. Charlotte actually looked to be in control of the game at that point, and Jefferson had connected on all four of his shot attempts.
Upon return, he hit only 5-of-13 and was moving around with a noticeable limp. The Bobcats hung around and maintained a lead until about midway through the third, but Miami exploded down the stretch to put it away.
Circumstances have changed dramatically, and the Bobcats' season is likely toast if Jefferson cannot weather this storm. They proved they can go toe-to-toe with the two-time defending champs, but they were already huge long shots to win with a healthy Jefferson.
Al Jefferson leaving the arena wearing a walking boot, wincing on every other step. Game 2 of Heat-Bobcats series is Wednesday.— Rachel Nichols (@Rachel__Nichols) April 20, 2014
Now? Charlotte still needs huge performances out of him. They need 25-30 points and 15 rebounds huge, because no one else on this roster is capable of replicating what he does. Jefferson and Kemba Walker are the only two proven scorers they have, and it was glaring how poor the Bobcats were in Game 1 during the brief moments they were off the floor
The world knows how doomed the Bobcats are without Jefferson, but luckily enough Big Al has no intentions of missing time:
"Just got to suck it up, man," opined Jefferson in his post-game comments. "I'll be fine for the remainder of the playoffs."
Al Jefferson says he will play in Game 2 against the Heat despite ‘feeling a rip’ in his foot http://t.co/ARJ5jVsHTj— SB Nation NBA (@SBNationNBA) April 20, 2014
Jefferson received an injection once the injury occurred and another one at halftime. He noted that he was still in pain, but once the injections started to take effect that he did indeed start to feel better in the second half and that it was just something he would have to get used to.
The area where Charlotte could be in most trouble is on defense. Jefferson knows the biggest asset he brings to the table for this team is that he is a dominant low-post scorer, so he will have to exert a lot of energy on his injured foot to get his numbers on the offensive end. On defense, Miami will likely be attacking him a lot. He needs more help than usual protecting the rim now with the plantar fascia injury.
Something Jefferson may have to give this series is an infusion of passing, especially out of double teams. How often he gets double-teamed will depend on how effective he can be as a scorer with his injury, but it is more imperative than ever that he passes out of it efficiently.
Charlotte is 7-4 since the All-Star break when Jefferson logs at least three assists. Maybe he can bypass a couple of difficult shots he normally takes during the course of the game to help get his teammates going a bit. Walker, Gary Neal and Josh McRoberts were big contributors in Game 1 and can up their production even a little more if they play more in tune with the big man instead of simply watching him work his magic on the left block.
The Bobcats are not the kind of team that can beat an opponent in a number of ways. Jefferson's injury is not going to change their game plan, but it should alter it ever so slightly. The main thing he needs to do is be smart and play within himself, as cliche as it may sound. His foot is going to be an issue, so Big Al truly has to pick his spots and know when to attack the rim and when to find a teammate.
In lieu of the injury, more of the onus is going to fall on the men surrounding Jefferson. If he gets double-teamed, it is now less likely that he can beat it. Aside from Neal's 17 points, Charlotte's bench accounted for just seven points. Everyone is going to have to be ready to catch and shoot as well as beware of finding open cutting lanes. Some balanced scoring will take some pressure off the hobbled big man.
Charlotte has a smaller margin for error with an injured Jefferson. They lost the turnover battle in Game 1, 13-7. That will have to change, and Charlotte will also have to get out and run to get quick buckets and save Jefferson some energy working on the block.
If the odds weren't already stacked enough in Miami's favor, they now could be 100 percent on their side depending on the health of Jefferson's foot. Charlotte needs the huge scoring and rebounding numbers they are accustomed to from the big man, as well as an infusion of the little things such as beating double-teams and rim protection. The only difference now is that all of that depends on his health.