Al Jefferson and Scrappy Bobcats Earn Respect Despite Game 2 Loss to Heat

Ethan Skolnick@@EthanJSkolnickNBA Senior WriterApril 24, 2014

AP Images

MIAMI — Four seats from where the media gathered, an old basketball warrior sat stoically, only occasionally looking up from his phone to survey the scene. So many of Patrick Ewing's battles occurred in this city, and some occurred in this building, but they are behind him now, as he's already pushed past 50.

Now, as a Bobcats assistant, he lives through his project, another proud man who was born a mere five months before Ewing became a Knick and who lived up to that Ewing legacy of toughness on Wednesday. 

Reporters were waiting for that man, Al Jefferson, to trudge from the shower to his stall, a short trip unless you're the one feeling a sting with each step. Jefferson hadn't won this game against Miami, and his Bobcats will not win this series, not after the 101-97 defeat dropped them down 2-0. 

But he and his team certainly should have won some respect. 

Actually, through two games, his spirit has been more impressive than anything the Heat have offered, if only because it's been relentless.

Lynne Sladky

Unfortunately for him, something else has been equally relentless. 

"Just a lot of pain," Jefferson said, his aching left foot now in a sock, under a flip-flop. 

That pain was obvious Wednesday, even as Jefferson played 20 minutes in each half and scored 18 points with 13 rebounds. "He has no mobility, basically," Bobcats coach Steve Clifford said. But he does have some versatility, and he showed the latter by operating more from the mid-post.

He has plenty of tenacity, too.

"He's a tough hombre," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. 

After injuring his foot in Game 1 and still enduring until the end, he spent two days in a walking boot to limit his discomfort until Wednesday. There's no healing this particular injury, not in so short a time. There's just hoping it won't get worse. And then, in the first half of Game 2, it did. 

"I was just running downcourt," Jefferson said. "And I just felt it basically rip all the way through. It came up midway through my foot. And it just was pain. The doctor said there was no more I could do it to hurt it. So I just had to play through it." 

And what now?

"Just have to play through it," Jefferson said.

That has become the Bobcats' slogan for this series. Play through the mistakes, which included 11 turnovers in the first half before settling down (just two) in the second. Play through the deficits: 15 in the second quarter, 11 in the third quarter, then 14 with 6:38 left in the fourth before pulling within one with just 11.9 seconds left on Kemba Walker's second three-pointer in the final two minutes.

Play through the disparities in talent and experience, with Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, a marginal offensive player in his first two NBA seasons, scoring more points (22) than in any game since Dec. 29, 2012. 

Lynne Sladky

And, sure, the Heat had to play through some things, too. But those poor patches were mostly of their own making. Yes, LeBron James posted a superlative stat line (32 points, six rebounds, eight assists, four steals). Yes, Chris Bosh made some big shots late, finishing with 20 points on 8-of-11 shooting.

And yes, Dwyane Wade, after a largely uneven evening, yanked the last chance away from Chris Douglas-Roberts on a well-timed trap. But, on the whole, Miami has shown the same troubling traits that it did during a sluggish regular season. 

"A lapse of either energy offensively or concentration and discipline defensively," Spoelstra said. "And those moments were usually when we were up double digits."

Now they're up 2-0 in the series, and the best player on the other side believes he has snapped the connective tissue in his foot. 

Still, there were the Bobcats, stubbornly insisting they still can challenge in this series. 

"I got the shots I wanted," Jefferson said. "I've just got to make them." 

Lynne Sladky

"We all feel could have played a lot better," Walker said. 

"We've got to play better," Josh McRoberts said. "We didn't play very well." 

"We've just got to get better, and stop making so many mistakes that we should know better," Jefferson said. "We've just got to slow down and play the right way."

And then, this...

"Honestly, man, I think we're still really confident," Walker said.

Later, he added this:

"I think we have a chance, man," Walker said.

The Bobcats don't. Not to advance. Not with a shallow roster and a broken anchor. Not after six losses to Miami already this season. And certainly not if the Heat focus for more than a few minutes at a time. 

But better to admire than admonish them for the overreach. 

They've certainly earned that much.