Since 2010, Dwyane Wade and LeBron James have made plenty of history together, and they were eager to make more.
“It felt like we hadn’t played in two weeks but the playoffs are back,” James said. “We didn’t have any rhythm to start the game, but we were able to work through it.”
With the arena washed in its customary postseason white, the Heat defeated the Bobcats 99-88 to take a a 1-0 lead in its first-round playoff series.
It was the Heat’s first postseason victory against the Bobcats, but Miami hasn’t lost to Charlotte since James signed with the Heat. The Heat has beaten the Bobcats 17 consecutive times overall.
The back-to-back league MVP led the back-to-back defending champions with 27 points in the Heat’s playoff opener. He was 8-of-16 shooting from the field, 4-of-8 shooting from three-point range and 7 of 10 from the free-throw line.
And it came with great relief to James (and everyone else in South Florida) that Wade was the player who ignited the Heat’s offensive momentum in the third and fourth quarters.
Now gunning for his fourth championship ring, Wade scored 23 points in 34 minutes and, more importantly, showed few signs of fatigue after missing games in April because of a hamstring injury. Wade missed 28 games total in the regular season with the hopes of preserving his knees and legs for the playoffs.
He responded well to his first physical test.
“Did he look right?” James asked after the game, responding rhetorically to a question. “It can’t get no righter. He looked right to me: 10 for 16 and he was in attack mode and he got to the rim and he was working in transition and he had his step-back going.
“Anytime D-Wade is getting and playing above the rim, you know he’s feeling good.”
Long-range accuracy is also a good indicator of Wade’s general health, and a three-pointer by the Heat’s shooting guard gave Miami a 15-point lead with 6:50 left in the game. Only then did the arena exhale. Only then did the video board offer the fans its ode to Wade.
The Bobcats led by as many as nine points in the third quarter, but the upstart youngsters couldn’t match the Heat’s veteran poise in crunch time. Wade backpedaled with his index finger raised high in the air after his three-pointer and then motioned like a bowler rolling a strike as officials signaled for a timeout.
“Physically this is where I wanted to be,” Wade said. “Felt good today. No limitations. Good first game.”
Chris Bosh had 13 points and James Jones, an unlikely contributor off the bench, had 12 points, going 4 of 6 from the field and 2 of 3 from three-point range.
Point guard Kemba Walker had 20 points for the Bobcats, and center Al Jefferson finished with 18 points despite injuring his foot in the first quarter.
Jefferson’s injury could affect the rest of the series. The big center said after the game that he “heard something pop” in his foot during the first quarter.
“I feel a lot better now,” Jefferson said afterward, “but when it first happened there was a lot of pain. As the game went on it eased up on me. I just gotta suck it up. I’ll be fine for the rest of the playoffs.”
Jefferson received two pain-reducing shots during the game and wore a protective boot after the game. With his best player likely injured for the remainder of the series, Bobcats coach Steve Clifford didn’t understate Jefferson’s importance to the team.
“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,” Clifford said.
The Bobcats’ imposing big man injured his foot during the first quarter after beginning the game 4 of 4 for eight points. He dominated the Heat inside from the beginning, but after he returned later in the second quarter Jefferson could never fully duplicate his early effort.
Compounding Jefferson’s injury, the Bobcats committed 15 turnovers, which the Heat converted into 20 points. Meanwhile, the Heat had but nine giveaways.
“Obviously, it has crippled us throughout this season, especially the last month-and-a-half,” James said. “We come into this postseason understanding how much possessions mean more than anything, and not turn the ball over, especially with a young team like this.”