The Charlotte Hornets make it a 2-2 series with the Miami Heat, winning 89-85 in game 4. Kemba Walker led the scoring but Jeremy Lin was once more the best player and Courtney Lee provided the final moment of clutch.
Lin finished with 21 points off the bench, scoring 11 in the first half, when he turned an early deficit (not new) into a lead for the Hornets, leading a 23-6 run. Lin was the main reason so many Heat players had foul trouble early on, getting to the line nine times, making eight of his shots. He scored five of his six field goals from within the paint and while we’d like to see him better when he shoots from the outside (1-for-5 from outside the paint, 5-for-5 near the rim), he understands what’s going to work in this series. That one three pointer, by the way? Lin gave his boss a tribute with the celebration, reminding us of that 1992 NBA finals series against the Blazers. Michael Jordan, who has seen and done a thing or two in his career as a player, didn’t seem too impressed, but he was by other things.
Lin also had three assists and two steals in another fantastic defensive game from him. He’s not going to stop Dwyane Wade or bigger players every time he faces them, but his attitude on defense is infectious, unlike what we saw in the first two games. Even Walker looks like he’s interesting in stopping players, although not all the time. And Walker nearly cost the Hornets the game on the final possession, with Lee in place to save the day.
After Hassan Whiteside (8 points, 7 rebounds, 3 blocks) hit one-for-two from the line, the Hornets had 29 seconds on the clock to protect a three point lead. What does Walker do? Launch a 28-foot three-pointer after wasting the entire shot clock by doing nothing. Lee was on the offensive rebounds, got fouled by Luol Deng and sank both free throws, finishing with 11 points. Marvin Williams, barely involved offensively, shot 0-for-5 from the field, not scoring a single point.
This isn’t a Walker diss post if you had that feeling. He scored 34 points, a career playoff high, and his 11-0 run in the fourth quarter was impressive to watch. But while +/-, just like any other statistic, can be misleading, it wasn’t this time. Walker shot 13-for-28 from the field, way too many attempts and finished with just one assists in 40 minutes. The Hornets as a team had just 10 and are averaging only 12 in the postseason. The Hornets were losing by 7 during his minutes, that included a bad start. As we’ve mentioned a number of times, there are too many stretches during which Walker’s scoring has zero effect on how well the Hornets are actually doing.
Lin didn’t mind watching the Walker show, but that’s not the kind of basketball the Hornets are going to win this series with. He’ll be hotter, he’ll be colder. The kind of basketball we saw from Charlotte during their 23-6 run in the first half, with Lin leading the way, had a bit more to do with how they should be. We saw a lot more drives to the basket from everyone, hence the excellent numbers from the line and the foul trouble the Heat starters were in. It’ll be interesting to see if the officiating in Miami keeps this something worth doing for Charlotte. Not like they have a choice. They’re shooting only 23.8% from beyond the arc, as the Heat keep focusing on stopping the Hornets outside, and for the second consecutive game get hurt from that approach.
There’s no use changing the lineup, even if Jefferson and Kaminsky combined for just 13 points on 5-for-17 from the field. It’s not like the Hornets have too many options either. Cody Zeller plays best with Lin (both had the best +/- on the team once again), so he needs to come off the bench. Tyler Hansbrough isn’t going to be used, and the Hornets pretty much go with an 8-man rotation, although Troy Daniels and Jeremy Lamb could be useful at some point later.
Lin getting 34 minutes and having the confidence from his head coach and teammates to is a lot more like it for the Hornets. Look, there’s no completely turning off whatever it is that Walker does. He’s not the same player without some moments of doing his one on ones and trying to seize moments when he feels on fire, whether he actually is or not. But turning it down a little bit more will be beneficial for the Hornets in a difficult road game up ahead, as it probably would have made game 4 end without the tense moments in the end.