Charlotte Bobcats coach Steve Clifford has said this 100-some times: Center is a dependent position; the other players have to supply Al Jefferson with the ball.
The Miami Heat cut off the Bobcats’ supply line after the first quarter Saturday. That’s why it’s up 3-0 in this best-of-seven playoff series following a 98-85 victory at Time Warner Cable Arena.
Jefferson, fighting through a left plantar fascia injury, had an exceptional first quarter: fifteen points off 7-of-9 shooting from the field. The sellout crowd of 19,633 was rocking loud and Jefferson looked as nimble as he’s been since injuring himself early in Game 1.
And thenpoof. Over the last three quarters, a span of just more than 20 minutes, Jefferson totaled five points on 1-of-4 shooting. The Heat disrupted the Bobcats’ ball-movement and Jefferson’s positioning so severely that Charlotte never reached 21 points in any of the last three quarters.
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“They just do a great job of fronting the ball,” said Jefferson. “They’re going to make us work for everything, especially when we go through me” offensively.
The Bobcats are a game away from being swept for the second time in as many playoff appearances. Game 4 is Monday at 7 p.m. at Time Warner Cable Arena, and it’s clear the Heat feel an urgency to close this one out in the minimum.
“They understand what’s at stake,” said Heat coach Erik Spoelstra. “We don’t want this series going any longer than it needs to.”
The Heat was pretty upset with itself late in the first quarter after Jefferson scored so easily and frequently over Chris Bosh or Chris Anderson.
“Every catch was right in his wheelhouse, where he could inflict a lot of damage,” Spoelstra said of the initial 10 minutes. “Everybody was upset in the timeout and then it changed.”
The Heat ended up smothering the Bobcats, forcing 14 Charlotte turnovers, while committing only six. Miami’s points-off-opponent-turnover – 15 – was essentially the margin of this victory.
The Bobcats finished the regular season with the fewest turnovers in the NBA. In these three playoff games they’ve committed 44 turnovers to Miami’s 33.
One particularly egregious turnover occurred late in the first half when shooting guard Gerald Henderson threw a bad pass in the backcourt that was intercepted by LeBron James (30 points, 10 rebounds, six assists).
James advanced the ball toward Charlotte’s basket and Henderson fouled from behind. James managed to get up a shot that bought him three free throws; he made all three to make it a 58-36 halftime lead.
That completed a brutal four-minute span when the Bobcats were outscored 16-4.
“Obviously we butchered the last 3 1/2 minutes of the first half,” said Clifford, who then praised how difficult the Heat makes it to run an efficient offense.
“He’s a shell of himself (because of the injury) but he’s still a handful,” Clifford said of Jefferson. “They made it so difficult for us to get him the ball.
“We just didn’t respond well to their ball pressure. The ball can’t stick (in one place). We don’t have those guys who can do that. It’s got to move.”
Not just move; move immediately.
“We’ve got to be quicker with our decision-making,” Clifford added, “because the ball can’t stay in one place.”