Everything and Nothing
USA Today Sports
Let’s be honest: the Charlotte Bobcats never stood a chance against the Miami Heat.
The defending champs swept the seventh-seeded underdogs 4-0 during the regular season, with an average margin of victory of 10-and-a-half points. The Bobcats finished with a below average points per 100 possessions differential and ranked 26th in offensive rebound rate, the most vulnerable facet of Miami’s game. Charlotte has absolutely no answer to the Heat’s five-out lineup that features Chris Bosh at the center, LeBron James at the four and three shooters stationed behind the arc. Miami wouldn’t be dethroned in this series, one in which their opposition’s fan base would be satisfied with a single victory.
Just don’t tell any of that to Al Jefferson.
Charlotte’s leading scorer and All-NBA First Team possibility entered this series as a trump card for the Bobcats, thanks to his proficiency in the low post. Jefferson’s ability to work down low and face up for the short mid-range jumper has earned him much praise over the course of the season after a rough start due to injuries. His 0.97 PPP in the post is easily Charlotte’s most glaring edge over the Heat, who rank 28th in post-up defense per mySynergySports. It’s no surprise then that Charlotte scores 102.7 points per 100 possessions with Al on the floor and 98.6 when he’s on the pine.
Unfortunately for Charlotte, Jefferson tore his plantar fascia early in Game 1, leaving him in constant pain. If there was a sliver of hope for Charlotte in this series, it evaporated with this injury. Jefferson wasn’t having any of that.
With team doctors declaring that no long-term effects would come of Al Jefferson continuing to play, the center lugged on. Jefferson played an astonishing 40 minutes in Game 2, struggling to find his mark but still collecting 13 rebounds — five of which were offensive — on one healthy foot. His heroism continued in Game 3 at home, where Jefferson made mincemeat of Miami’s single coverage and scored 20 points on 8-13 shooting, got to the free throw stripe for the first time all series and blocked three shots.
Nobody made Jefferson play on. His name doesn’t draw the attention of a LeBron James or Kevin Durant. The public has placed zero expectations on this Bobcats team, and nobody would bat an eye if he sat out some games with an injury that produces a stabbing pain with every step. Nothing was riding on his play, but he decided to carry the load anyway.
So, why? Why trek on through heaps of pain when quitting is a reasonable and justifiable option? Because to some, the Playoffs aren’t about numbers, odds, fame, or logic. It’s about playing, standing by a team and it’s city, whether it be a feudal effort or not. It’s in these moments where sports claim their place in the world, where common thinking goes out the window and nothing but childlike emotion stands in its place. It’s here where Jefferson finds himself, playing to play because in reality there’s nothing else to play for.
In a time of the NBA year when cliche spreads like wildfire, Jefferson’s strength, determination and team-first mentality has made him the story of the Playoffs without receiving the recognition that comes with such a title. In the end, the series will likely end in a Miami Heat sweep. But knowing Al Jefferson, he’ll be out there in Game 4, playing for everything and nothing at the same time.