The Miami Heat rode a decisive third-quarter run to take control of Game 1, winning 99-88 and taking a 1-0 series lead heading into Wednesday's Game 2.
After the Charlotte Bobcats scored the first 10 points of the third quarter to regain the lead, the Heat responded with its one-two punch. First, a spry Dwyane Wade controlled the offense to put the Heat back on top with welcome slashes to the basket. Then after he sat down, LeBron James had his way, finishing the third quarter with a 3 that put Miami up seven. Miami poured it on in the fourth, going up by as many as 20 points before a late Bobcats rally.
Al Jefferson started the game 4 for 4 from the field, dominating Udonis Haslem down low. But Jefferson suffered a plantar fasciitis injury midway through the opening quarter that significantly limited his mobility for the rest of the game. Miami made its first patented run to close the second quarter, running after misses to get easy baskets in transition to exploit Jefferson's injury.
James and Wade delivered in the Heat's first playoff game. The four-time NBA MVP knocked down four 3s and finished with 27 points on 8 of 16 shooting from the field and nine rebounds. James was able to quickly neutralize Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, forcing him into four fouls in 15 minutes. And aside from Kidd-Gilchrist, no Charlotte player can match up with James. Chris Douglas-Roberts spent a lot of time on James, but he played in Italy and the D-League just a couple years back.
And Miami's decision to rest Wade so much in the regular season has paid early dividends. Wade was at his peak performance, with his explosiveness on display in his run-outs in transition and drives to the basket. He finished with 23 points on 10 of 16 shooting from the field and five assists in 34 minutes. His step-back 3 midway through the fourth put Miami up 15, essentially icing the game.
The real surprise for the Heat came from James Jones, the seldom-used sharpshooter who did not play at all until the end of the regular season. After Rashard Lewis disappointed from the field, Erik Spoelstra went to James Jones instead of Shane Battier, who has been mired in a slump. Jones scored 12 points in 14 minutes, and was a +18 on the floor. The Miami native made two 3s, but his two layups were surprising. One came in transition, and the other came in the third quarter after pump-faking and driving to the rim.
Udonis Haslem started and was a -14 in his 13 minutes, but I like Spoelstra's decision to go small. Like the Heat coach's move to start Mike Miller in last year's NBA Finals, playing Jones allows the Heat's offense to open up with a dead-eye shooter. Additionally, the move forces the plodding Jefferson to guard Bosh, who drove by the Bobcats center a few times.
Charlotte is a well-coached team that plays hard. If Miami exhales for a few moments -- as it did during a few stretches in this game -- the Bobcats will take advantage. And Jefferson was still effective offensively, finishing with 18 points and 10 rebounds. The Heat made a couple mistakes that watching film can fix (apparently, Chris Bosh forgot Josh McRoberts can shoot 3s). But the rotation adjustment for Jones and the play of Wade stand as undeniably good signs in the Heat's road to 16 wins.