The reported attendance at Time Warner Cable Arena on Saturday night was a 19,633, but on one play midway through the third quarter, LeBron James may well have been performing for an audience of one.
With the Miami Heat holding a commanding 66-49 lead over the Charlotte Bobcats just over four minutes into the second half of Saturday's Game 3, James poked the ball away from Bobcats forward — and noted LeBron fouler — Josh McRoberts and raced down the floor for a breakaway bucket. As he drove and prepared to cock the hammer, James' gaze moved from the rim over to the Bobcats bench ... and maybe, as ESPN's commentators suggested, to Bobcats owner Michael Jordan, who was seated next to the Charlotte bench for his team's first home playoff game in four years:
A closer look at the moment in question:
Here's looking at you, M.J.?
After the game, James shot down the suggestion that he was eyeing the Hall of Famer.
"Naw, don't start that," he said. "Absolutely not, man. Absolutely not. I was able to read McRoberts, get a steal and push the lead back up. I absolutely didn't look at M.J., for sure."
Must've been our lyin' eyes, then.
Whether James was staring down His Airness or merely shooting daggers at Charlotte's bench remains unclear, but the message he sent to the Bobcats on Saturday was unmistakable — we're not messing around, and we're trying to get this series over as quickly as possible.
James scored a game-high 30 points on 10 for 18 shooting, grabbed 10 rebounds, dished six assists and snagged two steals in 36 minutes of floor time as the Heat knocked off the Bobcats, 98-85, to take a commanding 3-0 lead in their best-of-seven first-round series. Dwyane Wade added 17 points, six assists and three rebounds for the Heat, who weathered a strong Charlotte start to earn their 19th consecutive win over the Bobcats.
Al Jefferson fought through his ailing left foot to score 15 first-quarter points on 7 for 9 shooting and lead Charlotte to a 27-23 lead after 12 minutes. But Miami cranked up the defense in the second quarter, limiting Jefferson to just one field-goal attempt, holding Charlotte to 5 for 16 shooting in the frame and going on a 16-4 run to end the quarter, heading into halftime with a 58-46 lead. The Heat continued to pressure Bobcats ball-handlers and shooters as the second half began, pushing the lead as high as 26 points with four minutes left in the third and cruising the rest of the way.
Jefferson led the way with 20 points, five rebounds and three blocks. Chris Douglas-Roberts added 17 points on 6 for 8 shooting off the bench for the Bobcats, who must win Monday's Game 4 to avoid being swept out of the playoffs as they were by the Orlando Magic in the first round of the 2010 playoffs, the only other postseason appearance in Bobcats history. If they can't beat Miami's ball pressure and curb their turnovers — another 14 on Saturday, leading to 15 Heat points — they'll find themselves taking an early vacation, affording James and his pals plenty of time to rest before staring down (see what I did there?) a second-round matchup with either the Toronto Raptors and Brooklyn Nets.
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