CHARLOTTE – Coach Steve Clifford said if the Charlotte Bobcats hope to avoid a first-round sweep by the Miami Heat and earn their first postseason win in franchise history, they’re going to need someone other than Al Jefferson and Kemba Walker to come through on offense.
The Heat double-teamed Jefferson after he scored 15 points in the first quarter Saturday night and hounded Walker en route to a fairly easy 98-85 victory in Game 3.
Game 4 is tonight in Charlotte.
“After the first quarter they were very aggressive sending a second defender at Al and much more aggressive with Kemba,” Clifford said following Sunday’s practice. “That means there are other opportunities with other guys and we have to take advantage of that.”
While Jefferson and Walker were 12-of-20 from the field, the rest of the Bobcats shot just 33 percent in Game 3.
Starting shooting guard Gerald Henderson and forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist combined for just nine points on 3-of-12 shooting.
Chris Douglas-Roberts provided a spark off the bench with 17 points, but Gary Neal – brought in for his outside shooting and playoff experience – has struggled with his three-point shot throughout the postseason.
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said he viewed Chris Bosh’s defense on Jefferson in Game 3 as key to the Heat’s victory.
“In the third quarter, he was outstanding, covering a lot of ground, pick-and-rolls and really putting a lot more pressure on Jefferson’s catches,” Spoelstra said. “He either couldn’t catch it in the post, or he really had to work for it and catch it a little bit further out on the court where we could pack our defense and bring some more help.”
The two-time defending champion Heat are right where everyone expected them to be – on the verge of moving on to the second round for the fourth straight season behind LeBron James.
In James’ first two seasons, the Heat bolted to a 3-0 lead in the opening round series, lost Game 4 and then closed out the series in Game 5 at home.
Last year, the Heat wasted no time sweeping the Milwaukee Bucks.
“The closeout game is always the most challenging game, and we’ve been in a few of them,” James said after Sunday’s practice. “But if we come in with the same mindset we did in Game 3 we will give ourselves a great chance to close out in Game 4.”
James will certainly be a huge part of that effort.
The four-time NBA Most Valuable Player has been nearly unstoppable against the Bobcats this season, averaging 37 points per game in seven meetings – about 10 points above his season average.
After two average performances in the first two games of the series, the Heat began looking like champions Saturday night in Charlotte.
“We played our type of basketball,” James said.
Now James is looking forward to returning home to Miami to rest his legs.
“Any type of rest you can get in the playoffs is beneficial, but for us it is how we play,” James said. “It is how we will play (tonight). If we come out with the same mindset or greater, we are going give ourselves a great chance to win.”
The Bobcats said they won’t go that quietly.
Henderson added he views it as “very important” that his team isn’t swept after a year in which the Bobcats went 43-39 in the regular season – a 22-game improvement from the previous year under former coach Mike Dunlap.
“Coach Clifford came in and spoke to us and said, ‘What’s the rest of our season going to be like? Is it going to be over (tonight)?’” Henderson said. “We have had such a great year, more than anything about this team, we have always fought. We have had some amazing games.
We’ve never given up on any game and that is the mindset we’re going to take into (tonight).”
Added Walker: “We are desperate.”