After a tight first half, Miami opened up a double digit lead and held off the Bobcats to win Game 4, 109-98, Monday night at Time Warner Cable Arena. The win completes a 4-0 sweep for Miami, who will take on the winner of the Nets and Raptors in the next round.
• Miami finds another gear -- Ever since The Big Three won its first championship together in 2012, the Heat have been knocked for their tendency to take opponents lightly. Commentators have posited that LeBron James and his cohorts do not always put forth a complete effort, unless a pressing set of circumstances arise. But when the playoffs begin, and the Heat are pushed by a strong opponent, they are expected to “flip a switch.” So far in these playoffs, the switch had remained mostly in its default position, despite the Bobcats’ best efforts.
But late in Game 4 on Monday, with a prolonged rest period before the second round in clear sight, Miami and its superstar, James, seized the moment and reminded the Bobcats why they are two-time defending champions. The result was a convincing, 11-point outcome in a contest that was close through the first two quarters. With the win, Miami becomes the first team to win a series in the 2014 playoffs – and the only one to do so in a sweep.
With star big man Al Jefferson sidelined due to a foot injury, point guard Kemba Walker energized his teammates early on by attacking the basket fearlessly and creating for others. In one sequence late in the second quarter, an off-balance and well-guarded Walker -- who finished with 29 points on 11-of-15 shooting -- tossed the ball off the backboard, retrieved it, and converted a layup. On the next possession, he drove and fed big man Bismack Biyombo for a dunk and a two-point lead. A breakaway layup from Michael Kidd-Gilchrist off a James turnover kept the Bobcats in front heading into halftime.
The message was clear: Charlotte’s chances of extending the series looked dire, but it wasn’t about to allow Miami to cruise to an easy win. For as promising as the Bobcats looked in the first half, Miami still delivered a knockout blow.
• LeBron’s injury a turning point? -- Less than four minutes into the third quarter, James snatched a bounce pass near the left block, turned and collapsed to the floor as his thigh collided with Biyombo's knee. James grimaced on the court under the basket as teammates huddled around him and he received medical attention. He was helped to his feet and remained in the game.
The injury proved a turning point. As he labored around the court over the next few minutes, James helped the Heat build a double-digit lead. He buried three at the 7:14 mark, nailed another jumper less than a minute later and assisted on several other baskets in the third quarter. He scored the Heat’s first eight points in the fourth quarter, expanding the Heat’s lead to 12 with just over 8 minutes remaining on a fadeaway jumper, and steadied Miami as it stymied the Bobcats’ late comeback charge. The Bobcats were able to cut the lead to seven with 3 minutes remaining, but after a timeout, Chris Bosh knocked down a pair of jumpers and James converted a layup to push the lead back to double digits.
What effect the injury had on James and the Heat isn’t entirely clear. It seems a stretch to suggest it was the driving force behind Miami’s closing flourish. The Heat likely would have shut the door on Charlotte in relatively comfortable fashion whether or not its superstar forward absorbed an apparently painful blow to his thigh. Whatever its impact, the injury coincided with James elevating his performance to a level not seen earlier in the game. He scored 19 points after going down and finished with 31 on 10-of-19 shooting. And Miami, with a hobbled James leading the way, took control for good. The Heat’s ability to shift into overdrive when the situation demanded it was the perfect distillation of what separates them from other championship contenders.
•Another protest -- Clippers players wore their warm-up shirts inside out before their playoff game Sunday in Oakland as a silent protest against team owner Donald Sterling, whose alleged racist remarks have caused a stir in the NBA community. Minutes before tipoff on Monday, Heat players carried out a similar show of solidarity, tossing their white, logo-bearing shooting shirts to the court to reveal red-and-black tops turned inside out. Players on both teams wore black socks, headbands and arm and leg sleeves.
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