MIAMI (AP) — LeBron James scored 27 points, Dwyane Wade added 23 and the Miami Heat used a late charge to beat the Charlotte Bobcats 99-88 on Sunday in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference first-round series.
Chris Bosh scored 13 points and James Jones had 12 for the Heat. Game 2 of the best-of-seven series is Wednesday.
Kemba Walker scored 20 points for the Bobcats, who led by nine early and led again in the third. Al Jefferson missed eight of his final 13 shots after getting hurt in the first quarter. He finished with 18 points and 10 rebounds for the Bobcats, who got 17 from Gary Neal and 15 from Josh McRoberts.
Miami sealed it with an 18-4 run in the fourth, all but three of those points coming with James getting a rest.
Luke Ridnour made a high-arcing baseline jumper with 10:29 left to get Charlotte within 74-69 before Jones answered with a 3-pointer to put Miami up by eight.
That’s when James got a breather. He returned to tons of breathing room.
Chris Andersen had a tip-in for a 12-point lead, Wade made a 3-pointer as the shot clock was winding down with 6:50 left to make it 85-70, and another score by Andersen pushed the margin to 17.
With that, Game 1 was secure. And just for good measure, James drilled a 3 on his first possession after checking back in, putting Miami up 20.
It was a solid first step for the two-time defending champions, who lost 14 of their final 25 games and earned only the No. 2 seed in the East. But James said before the game that the Heat felt like the season was starting anew, and that the playoffs were what matter most.
So far, so good.
Charlotte’s opening lineup had four players making their first playoff starts – three of them seeing their first playoff action. It was also the first national-television appearance this season for the Bobcats, who seemed anything but overwhelmed by the moment.
Before long, they had a nine-point lead behind Jefferson, who made his first four shots.
But he limped to the bench late in the first quarter, tugged his left shoe off and began rubbing his heel before wobbling toward the Charlotte locker room. The team said he was bothered by a left plantar fascia strain – the pain of which sometimes forced him to resort to one-legged jumpers and generally limping wherever he went.
Still, Charlotte led by six midway through the second when the Heat embarked on what became a 19-2 run.
Miami scored the first 12 in that stretch, and the Heat got a surprise boost as well. Little-used James Jones came off the bench to score four more late, and the Heat suddenly were up 47-36.
Walker made a 3-pointer to beat the first-half buzzer, drawing Charlotte within 49-42. That started an 11-0 answer by the Bobcats, who scored the first eight of the third quarter to reclaim a one-point lead.
And the third stayed close, neither team leading by more than three for the majority of the third. But a quick 7-2 Heat spurt – including a nifty drive by Jones, who had exactly three two-pointers in the entire regular season – gave Miami a 66-61 cushion late in the period.
James made a 3-pointer with 0.6 seconds left, and it was 72-65 entering the fourth.
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