The Miami Heat went to great lengths Saturday to make sure center Al Jefferson and point guard Kemba Walker didn’t beat them.
Which raises the question: Is any other Bobcat capable of beating the Heat?
After scoring 27 points in the first quarter of Game 3, the Bobcats totaled 58 over the remaining three quarters. The only Bobcat other than Jefferson (20 points) to top 13 points was reserve Chris Douglas-Roberts with 17.
Starting wing players Gerald Henderson and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist combined for nine points on 3-for-12 shooting. It’s imperative that changes for the Bobcats to have any chance of avoiding a playoff sweep in Monday’s 7 p.m. game at Time Warner Cable Arena.
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“In the second half they really got down (double-teaming) Al,” Henderson said. “When that happens, we’ve got to get in those spots” where others can finish plays.
The Heat has been fronting Jefferson in the post. Limited by a severe plantar fascia injury in his left foot, there’s only so much Jefferson can do to overcome the Heat’s double-teams. Meanwhile, the Heat is “blitzing” Walker, running at him with multiple defenders to cut off drives to the rim.
Focusing so much defensive attention on Jefferson and Walker means someone else has to be open. But you wouldn’t know that from Saturday’s scoring summary: Jefferson and Walker combined to shoot 12-for-20. The other 11 Bobcats combined to shoot 15-for-45.
Coach Steve Clifford spent much of Sunday’s practice reminding the other players they have to help Jefferson and Walker overcome the Heat’s strategy.
“There are opportunities for other guys. We’ve got to take advantage of that,” Clifford said. “After the first quarter they sent a second defender to Al, and they were much more aggressive with Kemba.
“Everybody has to look (for scoring opportunities). If you see a gap, drive it.”
Clifford said instead the ball has been “sticking” – not moving from player-to-player quickly enough. Jefferson said some of that is good intent gone bad.
“My teammates try so hard to get me the ball, and I love that,” Jefferson said. “But maybe sometimes we’re trying that too much.”
Then Jefferson added, “They took away Kemba, they took away me. We still had a lot of shots we couldn’t make. We need to run on them the way they’re running on us.”
The question with Jefferson might be less will at this point than circumstance. He first injured his foot early in Game 1 in Miami. He had two days each between Games 1 and 2 and 2 and 3. Sunday was the only off day between Games 3 and 4, and that concerns Clifford as far as Jefferson’s availability and effectiveness.
Clifford said it might be a game-time decision.
“It’s been one day of pain, the next to recover,” Jefferson said. “It feels like there are 20 nails in my shoe right now. And I’m feeling every one of them.”