MIAMI -- Under normal playoff circumstances, you’d want to say the two-time defending NBA champions shouldn’t need a game-saving defensive play from Dwyane Wade to beat a Charlotte Bobcats team with a hobbled star.
You’d want to say the Miami Heat, despite holding a 2-0 series lead heading to Charlotte for Game 3 on Saturday, have only some fine-tuning to do if this three-peat thing is going to happen.
But these aren’t your normal playoffs. At least not based on the early results.
To judge the Heat too harshly would be to ignore the nuttiness that’s happening in the seven other series.
So yes, Miami held a 14-point lead midway through the fourth quarter and still needed a Wade steal to avoid overtime. And yes, the Bobcats had 11 more offensive rebounds and 21 more shot attempts than the Heat to give what felt like a lopsided game an exciting finish.
But this Heat team is more thankful than concerned. Thankful that a “tough hombre” like Al Jefferson and his torn plantar fascia didn’t do even more damage than 18 points and 13 rebounds in 40 painful minutes. Thankful that Michael Kidd-Gilchrist’s breakthrough game didn’t translate into more than 22 points and 10 boards. Thankful that LeBron James experienced little more than a scare after a midair collision with Josh McRoberts late in the contest.
This wasn’t about showing off a championship-level readiness in their second playoff game.
This was about exiting their home arena leading a best-of-seven series 2-0 -- something no other team in these playoffs can say.
“I mean, it’s good,” said Chris Bosh, who hit four 3-pointers en route to a 20-point night. “That’s what the playoffs are about, being in situations [like that]. No matter how we got there, no matter what happened, you have to get a stop. That’s what it’s about.”
The way this game started, it appeared the Cats couldn’t possibly make the game interesting. Unless, of course, you find bad basketball interesting.
In that case, it might’ve entertained you when McRoberts went between his legs on the dribble to skip through a double team, only to get swatted easily at the rim by Bosh. Or when Cody Zeller threw a simple inbounds pass kind of close to Luke Ridnour, but not close enough where he could actually catch it before it flew out of bounds. Or when Zeller tried two pump fakes under the rim, only to finally rise up and find Chris Andersen was fooled by none of it and was ready to collect one of his two blocks.
Charlotte committed 12 of its 15 turnovers in the first half, and all of it was happening while a damaged Jefferson was dragging his left foot and apparently turning a partially torn plantar fascia into a fully torn one.
“I just ran down the court and I felt it basically rip all the way through,” Jefferson said of his first-half visit to the locker room. “It came up midway through my foot and it was just pain. Doctor said there was nothing more I could do to hurt it, so I just had to play through it.”
He did, of course, for 40 minutes. And he managed 18 points on 23 shots and 13 rebounds (five offensive). It’s nowhere near the efficient production we’ve grown accustomed to from Jefferson in a Bobcats uniform. But it was more than most would offer in his position.
And it had Heat coach Erik Spoelstra breaking out the Spanglish to help describe Charlotte’s go-to guy.
“He’s a tough hombre,” Spoelstra said, recognizing the language switch would give his comment a little more je ne sais quoi.
But describing how Jefferson was able to produce despite his coach, Steve Clifford, saying “he has no mobility, basically,” might even be easier than explaining how the Bobcats nearly stole the game anyway.
Kidd-Gilchrist was 9-of-13 from the floor without any discernible offensive skill. Kemba Walker needed 18 shots for his 16 points. Gary Neal came off the bench to miss seven of eight shots in 14 minutes.
Really, this Charlotte performance was pretty much the embodiment of grinding away.
“We just played five-man basketball, in which we were getting multiple pick-and-rolls,” Clifford said. “That’s how we tried to play when [Jefferson] was injured earlier in the year. It gives Kemba good chances to attack, and it gets McRoberts in a decision-making role a lot.”
One of McRoberts’ final decisions brought more of a scare to Miami than any of his eight points or four assists.
It was his choice to meet an attacking LeBron in midair with 50 seconds remaining in a one-possession game.
James had a relatively clear path to the basket, took off for what would’ve been an angry finish, but was met by a McRoberts elbow and forearm that sent him to the floor in discomfort.
There was no flagrant foul called, but the AmericanAirlines Arena crowd responded angrily when a replay showed the contact on replay.
“We just kind of got caught up in the air there,” McRoberts said. “I have to see it, but for me, real time, he was coming pretty fast down the lane. He’s a real strong guy and I was just trying to stop him from first getting the shot up. I think I just got caught up in the air. It looked worse than it was.”
He was right about how it looked. And frankly, there really wasn’t a good option for McRoberts at that point. He couldn’t let LeBron finish easily, given that his team was down only three.
He couldn’t extend his arms outward, because it could’ve been even worse. And he couldn’t really put his arms straight up because (A) it all happened too quickly, and (B) he would’ve been run over, and there had to be some sense of self-preservation there.
So his instincts said bend both his arms and try to absorb the contact while keeping LeBron from finishing.
It’s possible the league reviews that, however, and assesses a flagrant foul after the fact if the contact was deemed unnecessary.
“An elbow to the throat, that was the contact,” James said when asked where he was hit. “It’s not a very good feeling. I was just trying to catch my breath and hopefully it wasn’t too bad. I was concentrating on trying to hit free throws.”
Now, the concentration shifts to taking a game in Charlotte. Because predictability, which usually defines the first couple rounds of the NBA playoffs, was apparently left behind in the David Stern era.
And the Heat would prefer to leave the surprising results to the rest of the playoff bracket.