By John Schuhmann, NBA.com
VIDEO: Postgame: Erik Spoelstra
HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — In a first round series in which they have much more talent, much more experience and better health, the Miami Heat just have to stay focused. They did their best job of that in Game 3 in Charlotte on Saturday, handling the Bobcats 98-85 to take a 3-0 series lead.
For the Heat, it’s on defense where their focus can really waver. In the first quarter, they allowed Al Jefferson to take them to school. In the post or on pick-and-pops, Jefferson ran the Miami defense ragged, scoring 15 of the Bobcats’ 27 points on 7-for-9 shooting. The passing lanes were open and the catches were easy.
“Every catch was exactly where he wanted it,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said afterward, “right in his wheelhouse, right in his comfort zone, where he could inflict incredible damage to our defense. There was not a lot of resistance to it. It was just too easy and we did not have a disposition.”
Then the Heat turned up the defensively intensity and Jefferson barely touched the ball over the final three quarters. He scored just one more field goal and finished with 20 points. After those first 12 minutes, the Bobcats scored just 58 points on 65 possessions.
It was a two-pronged smothering. Direct entries into the post were impossible, because the Miami bigs fronted Jefferson. And pick-and-rolls had no effect either, because the Heat stopped the ball-handler in his tracks and cut off his passing lanes with an aggressive trap.
“But they just got up,” Bobcats coach Steve Clifford said, “got great ball pressure on the perimeter, got up in the passing lanes, and made it just so difficult for us to be able to get him the ball.”
This is what the Heat do when they’re focused. There are some teams that can handle their defense better than others, but when they bring all their energy and effort on that end of the floor, there’s no better D in the league.
And the most important part of that defense is Chris Bosh. He’s the guy smothering those pick-and-rolls, recovering back to protect the rim, and handling Jefferson in the post. His defensive brilliance was on full display in Game 3.
“In the third quarter, he was outstanding,” Spoelstra said, “covering a lot of ground in pick-and-rolls and really putting a lot more pressure on Jefferson’s catches. He either couldn’t catch in the post or had to really work for it and catch it further out on the court.”
There will be much tougher challenges down the line, but it was encouraging to see the Heat keep their foot on the gas in a game they didn’t necessarily need.
“I was curious to see what our mind set would be coming into shootaround this morning,” Spoelstra said. “The guys were locked in and we certainly saw some carryover, not only in the activity level, but the focus and the details. It was professional win.”
The next step is to do it again in Game 4 on Monday (7 p.m. ET, TNT) and earn some extra rest before a matchup with the Brooklyn Nets or Toronto Raptors in the conference semifinals.
“If we come out with the same mind set or even greater focus on Monday,” LeBron James said, “we can give ourselves a great chance to win. It doesn’t always result in a win, but we can be satisfied with the results if we come in with the same mind set that we had tonight.”