The Miami Heat remain in the driver's seat in their first-round matchup with the Charlotte Bobcats after winning, 101-97, on Wednesday night to grab a 2-0 series lead.
LeBron James led all scorers with 32 points on 11-of-17 shooting. He added six rebounds, eight assists and four steals in what was a much-needed, impressive, all-around performance considering the Heat's sluggish effort as a whole.
Dwyane Wade struggled to find his shot, despite finishing with 15 points. He made four of his 10 field-goal attempts. Chris Bosh, on the other hand, couldn't miss, going 8-of-11, including 4-of-5 from downtown to add 20 points of his own.
Those four threes are a career high, per ESPN Stats and Info:
Chris Bosh has already tied his career high with 4 3-pointers tonight. He's doing it from all over. pic.twitter.com/m0paJky2YH— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) April 24, 2014
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist came out of nowhere to finish as the Bobcats' leading scorer with 22 points. It's only the 15th time all season that he's scored in double digits, per Bleacher Report's Ethan Skolnick:
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist scored in double digits only 14 times this season. His high is 16. He has 13.— Ethan J. Skolnick (@EthanJSkolnick) April 24, 2014
Al Jefferson and Kemba Walker scored 18 and 16 points, respectively, but they largely struggled offensively, shooting a combined 14-of-41.
Luckily for Charlotte, Gerald Henderson stepped up to score 15 points and record what was the block of the night.
Without the surprising performances of Henderson and Kidd-Gilchrist, Charlotte would've been dead in the water long before the final buzzer.
The final score belies what wasn't all that close of a game, as the Heat never wavered after building an early lead. Charlotte managed to stay within arm's reach, but the Bobcats couldn't sustain the kind of run to put them out in front.
The final few minutes of the fourth quarter best exemplified this.
Miami was up eight points, 95-87, with three minutes and 35 seconds to play. Charlotte closed the gap to only three points, 97-94, with 1:42 left. After Bosh missed a three-pointer, the Bobcats could've pulled to within one point or even tied the game on their next possession.
But Chris Douglas-Roberts' three-point attempt was off the mark.
Charlotte had another great chance after Walker drilled a three-pointer to make it a 98-97 game with 11 seconds to go. After two James free throws put the Heat up, 100-97, the Bobcats squandered an opportunity to tie it up on a Douglas-Roberts turnover, all but ending the game.
Grantland's netw3rk channeled Rocky Balboa to describe the general feeling toward the Bobcats:
*Adrian voice* "YOU CAN'T WIN, BOBCATS."— netw3rk (@netw3rk) April 24, 2014
The entire night was essentially a series of small runs. The Heat would jump out to a double-digit lead, only for the Bobcats to close the gap to four or five points. Then Miami would go ahead by double digits again, repeating the cycle.
The Heat were far from convincing, despite leading for almost the entire game. You would've expected Miami to pull away once it had a 29-16 lead toward the end of the first quarter or when it was up, 36-21, with 9:49 left in the half.
There was also the 66-55 lead with 8:02 to play in the third quarter that largely evaporated within a few minutes.
Try as they might, the Heat couldn't kill the Bobcats off. Skolnick was experiencing de ja vu:
Feel like I've seen this Heat/Bobcats game about 15 times before. Just stunned I'm seeing it tonight, considering how limited Jefferson is.— Ethan J. Skolnick (@EthanJSkolnick) April 24, 2014
The difference in the matchup came down to pure star power. While the Heat had James, Bosh and Wade to call upon in critical moments of the game, the Bobcats were relying on Walker, Henderson, Kidd-Gilchrist and Jefferson.
It's kind of obvious which troop has the better resume on the biggest of stages.
What torpedoed Charlotte's hopes more than anything in Game 2, though, was Jefferson's injury. The imposing center has been suffering from plantar fasciitis. Before the game he said, per Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer, "I can’t say there won’t be any kind of pain. But I feel like every hour it’s getting better and better. It’s responding really well. I should be good for tonight."
Jefferson started the game but was forced to head to the locker room in the first quarter to get his left foot retaped. Bobcats head coach Steve Clifford said that he reaggravated the injury, per NBA on ESPN:
"He said it felt like it ripped a little bit more." - Steve Clifford on Al Jefferson, who went to the locker room in the first quarter.— NBA on ESPN (@ESPNNBA) April 23, 2014
Although he returned the to game, it was clear that Jefferson was laboring. You have to give him a ton of credit for returning to the court despite the discomfort. But with him hurt, the Heat smelled blood in the water.
TNT sideline reporter Rachel Nichols spoke with one of Miami's assistants, who told her that the Heat were going to test Jefferson's ankle more and more as the game wore on:
Meanwhile, one of the Heat coaches tells me they will actively try to move Jefferson around even more in the second half, test that foot.— Rachel Nichols (@Rachel__Nichols) April 24, 2014
Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated felt that the Bobcats' goal of remaining competitive in the series went up in smoke with Jefferson's injury:
Al Jefferson's injury is the biggest bummer of the postseason. With Jefferson, 'Cats could have made it interesting. Without, no shot.— Chris Mannix (@ChrisMannixSI) April 23, 2014
Charlotte will host Game 3 at Time Warner Cable Arena. The teams have two days off before Saturday's tip-off at 7 p.m. ET.
The Bobcats' postseason lives essentially hang in the balance. Should they lose the next game, they'll have an almost impossible mountain to climb. Stringing together four victories against the Heat isn't going to happen without divine intervention.
Their job will likely be harder should the league office decide to upgrade Josh McRoberts' vicious foul in the coming days. He collided with LeBron in the fourth quarter with what was a forearm to the throat. McRoberts didn't look to make any play on the ball, and the referees should've called it a flagrant foul.
CBSSports.com's Matt Moore thinks a one-game suspension looms:
McBob's gonna miss Game 3. Elbow above neck, it's automatic.— Hardwood Paroxysm (@HPbasketball) April 24, 2014
The key for Charlotte is a healthier Jefferson. Getting him back to 100 percent isn't going to happen, but if he can be somewhere in the vicinity of 80-to-90 percent around game time, the Bobcats might have a chance to make it a 2-1 series.