CHARLOTTE, N.C. — LeBron James heard the cheers from the crowd as he lay on the court holding his right thigh and writhing in pain.
It only seemed to awaken the four-time league MVP.
James scored 19 of his game-high 31 points after sustaining a thigh bruise early in the third quarter, helping the Miami Heat earn a first-round sweep of the Charlotte Bobcats with a 109-98 victory Monday night. He finished Game 4 10 of 19 from the field and had nine assists.
“It’s definitely sore,” James said. “I’m fortunate we were able to close out tonight and I can give it a little rest.”
He should have plenty of time.
The two-time defending NBA champions will await the winner of Brooklyn-Toronto series, which is tied 2-2. If that series goes the distance it won’t wrap up until Sunday.
James said playing Charlotte was a good first test and Miami is headed in the right direction as it looks to win its third straight NBA championship.
“We got tested by a young, scrappy Bobcats team,” said James, who averaged 36.2 points in eight games against Charlotte this season. “We responded with a championship-type attitude.”
Chris Bosh added 17 points and Dwyane Wade battled through foul trouble and finished with 15 as Miami extended its winning streak over Charlotte to 20 games.
The Heat improved to 16-2 in first-round games since James’ arrival four years ago. This was the second straight year the Heat swept their first-round series, taking out Milwaukee in four games last season.
This was Miami’s ninth consecutive series victory.
“We improved every game and that’s the most important thing about this series,” James said.
Miami began to take control midway through the third quarter shortly after James gave his teammates a scare when he drove to the basket from the left wing and his right thigh collided with Bismack Biyombo’s knee, sending James to the floor.
Concerned teammates gathered around him and he was down for about a minute.
James eventually got up and hobbled to the bench where sat down during a timeout. But he stayed in the game.
After the timeout he buried a 3-pointer and a long jumper before a one-handed dunk to help give Miami a 73-66 lead with 4:51 left in the third quarter. Miami pushed the lead to 13 when Norris Cole knocked down a 3-point buzzer-beater from the right corner at the end of the quarter.
Charlotte never got closer than seven points in the fourth quarter.
Down the stretch, the Heat went to James time and time again with Wade on the bench with five fouls.
James scored 11 points in the fourth quarter, taking advantage of a size advantage against Gerald Henderson.
“LeBron was terrific during that stretch of the fourth quarter,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “I thought the last 5 minutes of the fourth quarter there was great execution and trust and the ball was moving and it was just working to the open guy. That was encouraging to see, especially at that time in the game.”
The Bobcats played without Al Jefferson, their leading scorer and rebounder who has been bothered by a foot injury since the first quarter of Game 1.
“If you take away the best offensive player from any team in the league it dramatically changes your team,” Bobcats coach Steve Clifford said.
Kemba Walker picked up the slack, playing tough throughout and finishing with 29 points on 11-of-15 shooting.
“He showed that he is not afraid of the moment,” Clifford said. “He had a really good year and finished in a good way so we should be happy about him.”
Walker called the game a good learning experience for the inexperienced Bobcats.
“At the same time it’s our first go-around in the playoffs for a lot of us and we can only go up from here,” Walker said.
In the end, turnovers again spelled doom for the Bobcats.
They turned it over 16 times, leading to 22 Heat points, including two dunks by James.
The loss signaled the end of an era for the Bobcats. They will become the Hornets next season.
Before the game the Heat showed solidarity with the Los Angeles Clippers over the Donald Sterling controversy.
Like the Clippers on Sunday, the Heat ran out of the tunnel wearing their warmups, huddled at center court and tossed their white shooting T-shirts to the ground. They then went through their pregame routine with their red Heat warmup jerseys inside out, hiding the team’s logo.
NOTES: Charlotte never won a postseason game as the Bobcats in franchise history. … James scored at least 20 points in all four games. … Tyler Zeller of the Cleveland Cavaliers was in the crowd cheering on his brother Cody, a rookie with the Bobcats.