CHARLOTTE, N.C. — A 60-point first half and Dwyane Wade not dressing made it interesting, but ultimately the cream rose to the top and the Heat coasted in overtime to a 104-96 win in Charlotte. On the first night the Bobcats started selling Charlotte Hornets merchandise, the Bobcats suffered two defeating losses — the one on the floor and the one of their star point guard. Here’s four observations from Saturday night’s game:
The fast break started like they so routinely do with Kemba Walker receiving the outlet pass on the wing, darting to the middle of the floor, exploding as if he was shot out of a cannon towards the rim with the type of straight-line speed you only see from a handful in the NBA. But then Chris Bosh happened — again.
Walker tried to go up but just like Al Jefferson in the preseason, he instead landed on Bosh’s ankle with the ball of his ankle nearly touching the floor, causing him to fall to the floor in a heap. He laid on the floor for five minutes before Jeff Adrien and Bismack Biyombo came to carry him off, his body hanging from their taller shoulders unable to put any pressure on his left ankle.
"It’s part of the NBA. Guys come down on guy’s foot. Again, it was Chris Bosh. I think he got something with ankle injuries for the Bobcats," Al Jefferson said.
The X-rays came back negative, but it’s hard to see the guy who hasn’t missed an NBA game in his career back on the floor quickly. He left the locker room Saturday night on crutches with an air cast on the ankle.
"It’s not fractured, which is the big thing. They’ll do an MRI tomorrow," head coach Steve Clifford said. "And he’s going to be out for a while. I don’t think they really have any idea how long."
That MRI will likely tell the tale of a season. With Walker, we know what the Bobcats are — a slightly below middle of the road squad in the putrid Eastern Conference with a decent chance to sneak into the playoffs. Without? They’d rather not even think about it.
"We lose the heart and soul of this team. Kemba’s our fight," Jefferson said. "He’s the one that kept us motivated. He’s shooting the ball real well, breaking down the defense real well and getting guys involved and we are going to miss that."
It’s not a coincidence the Bobcats scored more points in the second quarter (31) than they did in the third and fourth quarter combined after Walker exited early in the third. How long they’ll have to continue to go without him remains to be seen. If it’s a high ankle sprain or any ligament damage is found in there, Chris Bosh’s foot could be the difference between a Bobcats playoff berth and a second-half tank job.
"It’s real hard. Everyone’s wondering what’s going on with him," backup point guard Ramon Sessions said. "Nobody really knows but saw him walking out, looked positive, hopefully we can get him back sooner than later."
How soon that is will determine the Bobcats’ second half fate and their drafting slot.
The game was knotted with 21 seconds left, and everyone in the building knew what was coming — the LeBron isolation, the only option you need in the playbook with the game on the line. Only he let them off the hook, not even attempting to drive before forcing a fall away, contested 18 footer. Only it didn’t even matter because the way the Heat had clamped down defensively in the second half, the Bobcats stood no chance in overtime.
They only scored six points in overtime after scoring only 30 in the second half after a 60-point first half and got rolled in overtime.
Miami wasn’t going to let the ball get to Al Jefferson, regardless of what they were going to give up to do so.
"They probably tried to deny Al a little more in the second half," Sessions said. "One of those things we still have to find ways to get him the ball because he’s one of the best low post scorers in the game. They’re a great defensive team and they changed up a little bit there at the end."
Added Jefferson: "They picked their defense up in the second half and did a hell of a job on me."
Since the help almost always was coming from James, Clifford tried to counter that by leaving Anthony Tolliver and his three-point shooting in the game over Michael Kidd-Gilchrist’s defense and rebounding to punish James for bringing the double. It didn’t work.
"They’re a really aggressive, swarming, they’re aggressive in the pick and roll," Clifford said. "The heat is on you. Every time you come off now you better be ready to make a play that’s the right play and if not they’re going to gobble you up which happened on a couple of those possessions late in the fourth and overtime. It’s gotta be strong, hard, forceful basketball on the offensive end or it’s going to be a turnover or deflection."
Said James: "One thing about it, our defense was there the entire time after the first half."
Usually 2-2 is no cause for celebration but after going 1-8 in the three weeks prior, Clifford will take it — especially when one of those losses comes in overtime against the defending champs.
"Tough loss but you know what I just told those guys I feel a lot better about our team today than I did a week ago. I feel like we had a good week," Clifford said. "Good win over New York, we had our moments in Philadelphia but we showed the fight we were showing early in the year. Last night I thought we did a good job. Our offense obviously is getting a lot better. We played a good game tonight.
"We fought hard, feel like were getting back to fighting, defending, staying in games, and hopefully that will help us going forward."
Don’t mistake that for satisfaction that they were just able to hang in against the champs. After all Dwyane Wade didn’t play and the Heat lack offensive firepower when he’s out, but they were blown out four times in that 1-8 stretch, so Clifford will take his chances holding any team with LeBron James on it to 90 points.
"This is not a league of moral victories; this is pro sports," he said. "Even though we are playing some younger guys — and again the whole thing is about winning — but to me right now the way we played this week, even though we had that one stretch in Philadelphia, we’re back to playing hard and smart. When we turn the ball over, it is going to be trouble but I like the way we are hanging in there and fighting for wins. When you have that type of attitude, you can get better."
But in the end, the King and his 34 points, 8 rebounds, and 6 assists reigned supreme.
"I think we’re headed in the right direction. Our defense was good for the most part, made a couple of mistakes," Jefferson said. "Unfortunately we had to go against Superman and he made some unbelievable shots down the stretch."
4. Kidd-Gilchrist not seeing the type of minutes he’s used to
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist got his fourth foul with 5:21 left in the third on a James drive to the rim. He never saw the floor again, and Clifford said after that it wasn’t about foul trouble. Instead, it’s more about working his way back into game shape after missing six weeks with a broken left hand.
"Mike, when you miss that much time, obviously he’s not back yet. He’s not back at either end of the floor and this is good for him. He can kind of get going here, but again, usually the formula that you’ll use, like for instance you’re playing in playoff games, you start with your best defensive team and finish with your best offensive team."
That and Clifford’s liked what Tolliver’s brought to the floor in Kidd-Gilchrist’s stead. Sure, Kidd-Gilchrist is one of the best rebounders in the league for his position and an above average defensive wing, but the spacing Tolliver brings is just as critical, knocking down 3-of-6 triples against the Heat. On the year, Tolliver’s shooting a ridiculous 45.5 percent from three — fifth best in the NBA.
"We can’t get outscored from three by five or six threes — plus we don’t take a lot of them," Clifford said. " So when he’s in the game, making two or three threes, it makes a big difference."