After losing the first two games , the Charlotte Hornets storm back and take control with the first road win in their series with the Miami Heat. Courtney Lee provided the big play in the end once again, Kemba Walker mostly missed shots (again…) and Jeremy Lin had a more difficult time to get points, but made up for it with everything else.
The Hornets are now up 3-2 after looking like a team that can’t defend and struggles offensively in the first two games. They beat the Heat 90-88 in game 5 without getting some huge advantage from the free throw line (15 shots to 19 by Miami) and with their “star” player, Kemba Walker, once again taking bad shot after bad shot but not stopping, because he has a green light from the bench to keep on missing. Maybe it’s part of Steve Clifford’s game plan.
Jeremy Lin scored 11 points in 35 minutes off the bench, and while it wasn’t the numbers we got used to from him in the two previous games, he once again provided the smart decision making and pace pushing the Hornets desperately needed at times, along with defense, which is such a big part of his game these days it almost feels redundant to mention. He finished with six rebounds and seven assists, including the pass to Lee for the game winning three pointer.
And yes, that shot. Lee grabbed an offensive rebound in game 4 before hitting two clutch free throws that clinched the game for the Hornets. His late contribution was even more dramatic in game 5. Walker took another bad shot and missed with the Heat up 88-87. Lee, swooped from under the defense’s nose to grab a casual like offensive board and reset the offense. Ball to Lin, positioning himself outside the arc with Miami slow to realize he’s going to take a three in a few seconds. Lin got the ball back to him, and Lee nailed the game winning shot with 25.2 seconds left.
Miami focused on stopping the attack on the rim, and it succeeded. But for the first time in his series, Charlotte managed to get going from beyond the arc, making 12-of-24. The points they got there made up from what they didn’t get from the line. The Heat heading back home and two days of constant whining about flopping and referees helped them in some way, but they didn’t stop complaining after the game about calls they thought they deserved. Maybe this method will work for them in Charlotte. Maybe it won’t.
Nicolas Batum made his return after a couple of games out. He was pretty bad for most of the game, finishing with 8 points in 25 minutes, but he hit two three pointers in the fourth quarter, with the closer and tighter than it was earlier on. Marvin Williams led the scoring for Charlotte with 17 points, in another game of the first unit struggling early on before Lin and the cavalry came to save them. Al Jefferson scored 14 points and Walker did too.
Walker, Steve Clifford, they just don’t learn. Walker was 4-for-18 from the field. He’s shooting 36.4% from the field in this series and in just one of the games Charlotte were actually better off with him on the floor. He makes big shots from time to time, but when you average 21.4 field goal attempts a night, you’re bound to do something good. The Hornets really look better than Miami when they push the tempo, but with Walker under Clifford’s directive, it’s impossible to make a fast-paced game something that lasts for more than a few minutes.
However, credit to Walker for providing the block on Goran Dragic after Lee hit the go-ahead three. Rarely does Walker contribute in other ways but scoring, but in this game, with Clifford actually pulling him out twice for stinking up the place, he delivered, on defense (!!!), with the game on the line. Of course, the Heat whined after the game about that play as well, claiming there was a foul.
This was another game with Lin doing a great job of running the floor when he got the opportunity to, and too many minutes of Walker getting full control while others watch from the side. But with the Hornets steadying their D and really getting into Miami’s head, a conference semifinals, something that seemed impossible last week, is something to expect. The Hornets barely beat the Heat in the last two games – it’s not a done deal. But they’re doing the right things in a series that’s completely changed in the last few days, making up for the constant mistake they can’t seem to learn from.