It’s probably unrealistic to expect Charlotte to make this a long first-round series even at full strength, considering the Bobcats clearly have no solution to slow LeBron James and Dwyane Wade.
But when Charlotte’s best player is hobbled, it’s even more difficult.
Bobcats center Al Jefferson made his first four shots in Game 1 on Sunday before aggravating a plantar fascia strain to his left foot late in the first quarter, forcing him to the locker room briefly.
“I heard something pop,” he said.
After he returned, Jefferson moved gingerly at times, missed eight of his 13 shots the rest of the game and scored just four of his 18 points in the second half.
“I missed a couple of shots I normally make because I didn’t want to put a lot of pressure on it,” Jefferson said. “It was an uncomfortable feeling.”
Jefferson, who had 10 rebounds, received pain-killing shots when he sustained the injury and again at halftime.
“When it happened, it was a lot of pain,” he said. “As the game went on, it eased up. I’ve got to suck it up. I’ll be fine for the remainder of the playoffs. I don’t know all of the details, but I know I’ll be OK. Just something you’ve got to play through.”
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra made Jefferson move around more by replacing Udonis Haslem with James Jones 4:09 into the third quarter, forcing Jefferson to chase Chris Bosh to the three-point line and allowing the Heat to spread the floor.
“You could tell [Jefferson] was out there playing on one leg,” Bosh said. “Once we saw that, we wanted to go at him.”
The Heat trailed by one when Jones entered in the second half and led by eight when Jones went to the bench early in the fourth.
“We have to do a better job against that lineup,” Charlotte coach Steve Clifford said.
With the score tied at 59, the Heat unleashed a 36-16 spurt, thus extending its winning streak over Charlotte to 17 in a row, including 16 consecutive wins since James joined the Heat.
Charlotte led the league in fewest turnovers committed per game (12.3) during the regular season. But the Heat scored 20 points off 15 Bobcats turnovers.
“Their defense is amazing,” Jefferson said. “They can just turn the pressure up. We got loose with the ball.”
Clifford pointed to the turnovers as a difference, as well as the Heat getting 26 free-throw attempts to the Bobcats’ 12.
Jefferson shot 9 for 17 but was just 2 for 6 in the second half.
“He wasn’t close to himself” after the injury, Clifford said.
“I don’t know if there is one team in the league that is more dependent on one guy than how we are dependent on him. So much of his game is his quickness and pivoting. It changes his post moves. You could see it slow down his game, but he fought hard.”
Kemba Walker scored 20 points but had six turnovers to go with six assists.
“As a point guard, I can’t commit that many turnovers,” Walker said. “They are great with their hands and using their length.”
Gary Neal gave the Bobcats a boost off the bench with 17 points.
But Charlotte, as usual, had no answer for James, who scored 61 points in his previous game against the Bobcats.
James scored 27 points against a combination of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Chris Douglas-Roberts and others, and Wade (23 points) scored in the post and on the perimeter against Gerald Henderson.
The Bobcats were brilliant to start halves, storming ahead to a 21-12 lead and then beginning the third quarter on a 10-0 run.
But the rest of the time, they were outscored 87-57.