By Lang Whitaker, NBA.com
MIAMI — With 3:03 left to play in the first quarter of Game 2 between Miami and Charlotte, Bobcats coach Steve Clifford walked slowly up the Charlotte sideline from the bench toward halfcourt. His arms were folded, his head angled toward the court. If the floor were made out of dirt, he might have kicked it at that moment.
It wasn’t just that the Heat were up 18-13 at the time, but that they were in the middle of a 10-0 run at the time, and the Bobcats weren’t doing much to abate Miami’s progress. Moments later, Al Jefferson would head for the locker room for treatment on a foot injury that left him laboring up and down the court like his shoelaces were tied together. The Heat compiled a 16-6 run to end the first quarter. For the period, the Bobcats had just one assist imbalanced against six turnovers. Kemba Walker’s first points came with 6 minutes to play in the first half. By halftime, the Bobcats had rolled up 11 turnovers.
Before Game 1 of this series, Clifford talked about the importance of protecting the ball against the Miami Heat. During the regular season, the Charlotte Bobcats averaged 12.3 turnovers, the lowest rate in the NBA. During Game 1, the Bobcats piled up 15. Through the first half of Game 2, they totaled 12.
“You gotta give [Miami] credit, though,” Josh McRoberts noted. “It’s not like we were just out there throwing it around. They do a great job pressuring, trapping, playing their coverages to make it tough.”
Despite all of this, the Bobcats hung around all night, making a game out of a game that probably didn’t seem like it should have been much of a game. They protected the ball much better in the second half, adding just three more turnovers to their total. Jefferson gallantly played through the injury, though with every step the pain was painted not only on his face but across his entire body — Jefferson still logged 40 minutes and finished with 18 points and 13 boards. (“He’s a tough hombre,” said Miami coach Erik Spoelstra. “He’s a tough guy. I mean, that is not an easy thing to fight though.”)
By the end of the game, the Bobcats had the ball down three with 10 seconds left to play, but a broken play ended with a turnover and an eventual 101-97 win for Miami.
The Bobcats have looked tenacious against the Heat in spurts, but they haven’t been able to sustain that production on either end of the court. In Game 1 of the series, according to SportVU numbers, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist held LeBron to one point on 0-for-4 shooting from the field in 5:10 of matchup time. The problem was foul trouble: Kidd-Gilchrist played just 14 minutes and finished with four fouls. In Game 2, Kidd-Gilchrist played 34 minutes and scored 22 points, but even with his best efforts, LeBron finished with 32 points, eight assists and six rebounds.
After a first-round playoff knockout in 2010 at the hands of the Orlando Magic, it took the Charlotte Bobcats four seasons, dozens of players, four coaches and two general managers to get back to the postseason. And it definitely got worse before it got better — in 2011-12, the Bobcats won just .109 percent of their games, a record for futility. Two seasons later the Bobcats finished with 44 wins and a rosy outlook: The Bobcats have both youth and cap flexibility on their side. Of course, having a bright future is cold comfort when you’re down 0-2 to the defending NBA champs, and have lost 18 games in a row to the Heat.
After the game, I asked McRoberts if he could take anything positive from the loss — that even though they lost, they were within three with 10 seconds remaining.
“No.” McRoberts said. “I mean I’m sorry to do that to your question, but no, I don’t take anything positive from it. We didn’t play that well. We made too many mistakes. We played horrible in the first half. You can’t do that and expect to beat the best team. You can’t beat the championship team with that level. So no, we want to win. We were disappointed.”
“It’s just more on us,” Jefferson said of the Bobcats’ situation. “We just got to get better and stop making so many mistakes that we should know better. Time and time over again. We gave them too many turnovers, 20 points off turnovers in the first half. That’s all we gave them Game 1 and we gave that to them in the first half. We just got to slow down and just play the right way. We’re letting them get us on our heels and we just got to get better in there.”
“Honestly man, I think we’re still really confident,” Walker said. “We just have to learn from our mistakes. Our coaches do a great job at getting us prepared to play in these games and getting us prepared to win these games. We’re going to go back home, we’re going to go back to the drawing board, we’re going to dissect these guys as well as we can, and get ready for the next one. I think we have a chance, man. I know these guys are defending champs, and it’s not going to be easy. We’re trying to win these games, and like I said, I think we have a chance.”
McRoberts said he, like Walker, believes the Bobcats still have a chance in this series: “You got to, right? I mean, that’s what we play for, that’s what we’re going to try to do. I’m not coming out guaranteeing anything, but we expect to win 82 times during the season and every time in the playoffs, too. That’s the mindset you gotta play with.”