After getting off to a slow start start Sunday, the Heat eventually picked up enough steam to storm past the Bobcats 99-88 in Game 1. Miami picked up the victory behind 27 points from LeBron James and a promising performance from Dwyane Wade (23 points).
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• Miami isn’t quite back to peak form, but Dwyane Wade’s resurgence offers a glimpse. The Heat arrived in Game 1 in typical South Beach-style: fashionably late. Miami's offense stalled out of the gates and the Bobcats were able to jump out to an early nine-point lead.
“We get a stop, we gotta go. We can’t keep playing halfcourt offense versus them,” the ABC microphones caught LeBron James saying to his team in the second quarter.
Cue the takeover.
Miami eventually took a 35-34 lead with 4:16 left in the first half on an and-one basket from Dwyane Wade. That play was part of a 19-2 run by the Heat in the second quarter. Stifling defense, sound transition basketball, and the most devastating group of finishers in the league powered Miami's rally and led to a 20-5 advantage in points off turnovers for the game.
With Chris Bosh silent in the first quarter and LeBron struggling to find his rhythm, Wade scored 10 points in the first period and was Miami’s only source of efficient offense. It was an extension of D-Wade’s performance late in the season as he battled back from a hamstring injury that sidelined him for nine games. He finished Sunday with 23 points on 10-of-16 shooting, chipped in five assists and played 34 minutes.
Said LeBron of Wade: "Did he look right?...Can't get no righter."
Yes, LeBron finally got going himself – to the tune of 27 points, 9 rebounds -- but Chris Bosh scuffled to a 4-of-13 day. Luckily for Miami, Wade’s energy buoyed its sluggish offense. Against one of the league's best defenses in the regular season, the Heat scored 99 points, shot 46.1 percent from the field and 47.8 percent from deep, while turning the ball over just seven times.
We saw last postseason what a difference Wade can make when he’s healthy and engaged. This version of Flash makes the Heat capable of reaching their estimable potential. That's bad news for the rest of the East.
• The Heat have no answer for Al Jefferson. The big man's foot problems might be the only thing capable of slowing Jefferson in this series. The last time Charlotte’s indomitable center faced the Heat, he put up 38 points and 19 rebounds. LeBron scored 61 points in a Miami win to overshadow Big Al’s performance, but it showed just how dominant he can be against the Bobcats' first-round opponent.
Despite a strained planar fascia in the first quarter, which required multiple injections during the game, Jefferson finished with 18 points (9-of-17 shooting) and grabbed 10 rebounds. Scoring on up-and-unders, floaters, baseline jumpers, and scoop shots, Jefferson’s array of offensive moves were too much for a slew of Heat defenders.
Miami may usually be content to just let Jefferson be Jefferson, but Bobcats forward Josh McRoberts also excelled in his matchup with Chris Bosh, outplaying the Heat’s nine-time All-Star. McRoberts nailed a pair of threes in the first half to spread the floor, finishing with 15 points, seven rebounds and four assists. His facial of Chris Andersen, in a battle of dueling beards, was just plain dirty:
McRoberts’ playmaking ability should come as no surprise to the Heat; he was second in the lead in assist-to-turnover ratio to Chris Paul.
• Miami is still searching for its playoff rotation. Erik Spoelstra struggled during the regular season with roster continuity as key cogs for the Heat went through bouts with injury. As a result, Miami never really got into a groove with rotations before the end of the season.
Miami played 10 players against Charlotte in Game 1. Perhaps Spoelstra wanted to keep guys fresh, but after so much upheaval during the season, he may also be trying to figure out which lineups are most effective as the postseason moves forward.
With any other team, tinkering and toying with lineups at this point of the season would be cause for concern. On a veteran-laden team like the Heat, it’s just another minor obstacle to work through. When Miami hit the skids at various points throughout this season, much was made of a disinterested defending champion team just waiting for the postseason. Some players may have been in cruise control, while others were waiting patiently in the wings.
To wit, James Jones played the role of Mike Miller circa 2013 in Game 1. After riding the Heat bench most of the season, the veteran scored 12 points, including a pair of layups, an uncharacteristic contribution from a player typically perched behind the arc.
Jones also played his usual role as floor-spacer with a pair of treys, seeing first-half minutes in a playoff game for the first time since Game 5 of the 2012 Finals.
But that doesn't mean we won't see Battier and Oden at some point in this series or somewhere down the line. When it comes to his rotations, Spoelstra runs the ultimate meritocracy: produce and you will be rewarded.
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