Charlotte challenged Miami until the end of Game 2, but the Heat's Big Three combined to make critical plays at both ends and pull out a 101-97 win. LeBron James scored 32 points, while Chris Bosh added 20 after a lackluster Game 1. The Heat now head to Charlotte with a 2-0 series lead.
• Miami found a formula that works against one of the league's top defenses. Heat coach Erik Spoelstra preaches "Pace and space," to his team, a slogan he uses to encourage his players to attack with ferocity and tempo while also spreading out. Miami knows it can get superlative offensive play from its Big Three as it did in Game 2 almost any night -- LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh combined to score 67 of Miami's 101 points -- but unlike early in the Big Three era, the offensive stagnation and pressing that often crept in has given way to an offense that's more patient and and open.
One play that embodied Miami's paradigm shift away from isolation basketball came in the first quarter Wednesday. From the right corner, Norris Cole came off a double screen from Ray Allen and Chris Andersen as if he was going to shoot it from the top of the key. Instead, Ray Allen curled off the screen he had set himself and received the ball at the free-throw line. As the defense collapsed on Allen, he dropped a beautiful pocket pass to Birdman for the dunk. Notice not one of those names in the last few sentences was "James," "Wade," or "Bosh."
That being said, every time the Heat really needed a basket, they can always turn to LeBron James in an isolation set and play bully ball -- which worked on a numbers of occasions in Game 2. "Hero ball" leads to a lack of ball movement, which bogged down Miami for the better part of the second half of the regular season, but LeBron against anyone in a one-one-one matchup favors the four-time MVP.
For most of Game 2, "pace and space" was back with Miami shooting 52 percent from the field and carving up the fourth-best defense in the league according to points per possession. If anything, Miami got a little too concerned in the second half with getting other guys open looks, a problem that stands out when you have LeBron on the block.
• If Charlotte can kill its turnover problem, it has offensive mismatches to exploit. No, seriously. The Bobcats had the seventh-worth offense in the NBA in points per possession, but even with Al Jefferson hobbled, Charlotte scored 97 points against Miami on Wednedsay and found favorable matchups all over the court.
Averaging just 11.6 turnovers per game this year, Charlotte turned it over 12 times in the first half alone, leading to 18 Heat points. In the second half, the Bobcats gave the ball away just once, although it happened to be on the game-deciding play when Wade took the ball away from Chris Douglas-Roberts on the final possession. As a result, Charlotte outscored Miami 50-44 in the third and fourth quarters combined.
Early on, Gerald Henderson went at Dwyane Wade, scoring seven early points to go with two steals; the idea being if you make Wade defend on one end, he won't have the legs to produce offensively at the other.
Big Al, despite dealing with plantar fasciitis, put up 18 points and 13 rebounds. But it was Michael Kidd-Gilchrist who, despite not having any jump shot to speak of, was most impressive of all, finishing with 22 points and 10 rebounds, mostly on energy and athleticism alone, while also shooting an extremely efficient 9-of-13.
Let's be honest: the Bobcats aren't going to win this series -- they might not win a game -- but this is a young team that defends its butt off. They're one scorer, probably a shooter, away from being a truly dangerous Eastern Conference opponent.
• Particularly on defense, the Heat remain in cruise control. We saw the defensive intensity in spurts during Game 2. But Charlotte was extremely careful with the ball he final two quarters, keeping Miami's defense successfully at bay. Kemba Walker (16 points on 5-of-18) struggled most of the night, but made several big plays in the second half, something he's accustomed to. His three over the outstretched hands of Mario Chalmers to bring the Bobcats within one point with 11.9 seconds remaining was right out of his cold-blooded UConn days.
Chalmers, who was a gametime decision, struggled at both ends after a hot start offensively and had no answer for Walker's quickness. Henderson and Kidd-Gilchrist got to the rim with impunity at times, and Miami's help defense was spotty at best. Miami was able to pack the paint effectively for portions of the game, but to the detriment of its perimeter rotations, leaving shooters open and forcing themselves into scramble situations.
One of the knocks on the Heat for most of the season was the on/off switch it pressed only for games or moments when it mattered most. The danger in that, of course, is not being able to turn it on when you truly need it. Miami nearly found that out the hard way Wednesday as the Bobcats staged a furious late rally.
With the Heat's offense back to clicking, the final piece in the championship puzzle is recapturing the ferocious, swarming defense that helped them win their first two titles.
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