Al Jefferson battled through a painful plantar fascia tear to go 7-for-9 in the first quarter Saturday against the Miami Heat in Game 3 of an Eastern Conference first-round series, leading the upstart Charlotte Bobcats to a 27-23 lead at the end of the period.
During the quarter break, Miami coach Erik Spoelstra told ESPN’s sideline reporter that Jefferson looked like he was “going through shootaround and working on fundamentals,” chiding his team for making it far too easy for Jefferson to get what he wanted.
And then the Heat made the necessary adjustments. Double teams started coming at Jefferson and Chris Bosh and other tasked with defending him did a better job of pressuring him off his spot, knowing that the painful left foot would make it difficult for Jefferson to move laterally or work himself free from farther away from the basket.
And they also started sending traps and doubles at Kemba Walker at the time line, making the Bobcats’ young point guard burn seconds off the shot clock before even being able to trigger the offense. That forced Charlotte into settling for contested or rushed shots on multiple occasions.
Charlotte was the best team in the NBA at avoiding turnovers this season, averaging only 12.3 a game, at an NBA-best rate of 12.9 turnovers per 100 possessions. Charlotte has 40 turnovers in the three games so far this series (13.3 per game), but their turnover rate is all the way up to 15.9 per 100 possessions.
The numbers for the game tell the story. Charlotte was 12-for-22 in the opening quarter (54.5 percent) and Jefferson was 7-for-9 (77.8 percent).
Over the final three quarters, Charlotte was 15-for-43 (34.9 percent) and Jefferson shot just 1-for-4 (25 percent).
Miami took control of the game—and by extension, the series—with a dominant second quarter, outscoring Charlotte 35-19 while holding the Cats to 5-for-16 shooting (31.3 percent). While they were doing that at the defensive end, the offense was exploding to hit 4-of-5 from deep and 12-of-19 overall.
It was 58-46 Heat at the half and they entered the fourth quarter comfortably ahead by a 21-point margin 86-65.
Jefferson was neutralized over the final 36 minutes, finishing with 20 points—five after the first period. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, so good offensively in Game 2 when he had 22 points on 9-of-13 shooting, turned back into, well, the Michael Kidd-Gilchrist we’ve become accustomed to seeing, going 1-for-6 and finishing with more turnovers (four) than points (three). If it hadn’t been for the hot hand of Chris Douglas-Roberts (6-for-8, 17 points), the Bobcats would have been even more lost.
After Charlotte played Miami tough in the opening two games on South Beach (99-88 and 101-97 losses in Games 1 and 2), there were rumblings that the Heat couldn’t flip the switch, concerns that if they were struggling with the lowly Bobcats, what would happen further down the line in the playoffs.
About the “lowly Bobcats” thing—Charlotte was an Eastern Conference-best 20-9 after the All-Star break, so it’s not as if it should be a major shocker that the Bobcats are playing well … except for the nasty tendency of the NBA media to basically ignore most things that don’t happen in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles or Miami.
Looking ahead to Game 4 on Monday in Charlotte, it’s important for the Heat to put the Bobcats away and rest. The Heat, along with the Dallas Mavericks, are the oldest team in the NBA with an average age of 30.6 years (I admit I was surprised; I would have guessed Brooklyn, but they are third-oldest at 30.0).
Miami has only swept one series since LeBron James and Chris Bosh came to South Beach. That was their first-round win over Milwaukee in the 2013 playoffs.
But for a roster that features 38-year-old Ray Allen, a pair of 35-year-olds in Shane Battier and Chris Andersen, 33-year-old Udonis Haslem and 32-year-old Dwyane Wade in the rotation, any extra time the Heat can give their legs will pay dividends later in the playoffs.
So it’s likely that switch people refer to with regard to the Heat will still be on come Monday night.