Finally, the Miami Heat – Charlotte Hornets series turned into a two sided affair. Steve Clifford gets creative only when forced too, resulting in Frank Kaminsky playing big minutes and surprising everyone by stepping up, the defense finally showing up, Jeremy Lin being huge off the bench and Kemba Walker simply not stepping up to the occasion as the Hornets take game 3, winning 96-80.
Now the series is 2-1 in favor of the Heat. Nicolas Batum, who didn’t play in game 3, isn’t likely to be in game 4 either according to the most recent updates. The Hornets responded to the injury by going big. It didn’t win them the early stage of the game because Luol Deng was sizzling, hitting four three-pointers in the first quarter. However, later on in the game, Kaminsky finally showed why the Hornets took him so early in the draft with 15 overall points and 13 of them during an 18-0 run in the third quarter. The Hornets opened a 23 point lead based on that run at some point, and the Heat never really looked capable of making any runs themselves.
The local media might be going crazy about Kaminsky, but that’s more of the shock factor speaking. Jeremy Lin led the team in scoring with 18 points, 8 of them coming in his first five minutes on the floor. He finished with 13 points, being the driving force that kept the Hornets going with the Heat when Miami were still in the game, and denied them taking a lead or breaking away like in the previous games. He scored five in the second half, including a huge three in the third that put the Hornets up by 14, and seemed to make the roof explode off of the Arena, with a shot that was pretty much the dagger in the Heat’s hopes of coming back.
Al Jefferson did a good job early on by pinning fouls to Hassan Whiteside, although the Miami big man still finished with 13 points and 18 rebounds, playing 34 minutes. The Hornets were better when Cody Zeller played. Lin plays better with him, and it allows the Hornets to run. More than 20 minutes of Jefferson drags the team into a pace they can’t live with. The Hornets playing much better defense is the credit, and also the number of possessions being a lot more to their liking compared to the first game. Lin didn’t play big minutes (only 26) in contrast to the promises of Clifford, but he made the most of his time on the floor and who knows, maybe Clifford knows who was his backcourt player he needed to keep rested and out of injury risk when garbage time started.
There’s the Walker issue too. While Clifford said he did listen to Michael Jordan and Patrick Ewing about using Kaminsky differently (his average shot was from 7.5 feet away from the basket instead of forcing 3’s or not getting involved at all), he can’t help himself but giving Walker a carte blanche to ruin his team’s offense when he’s not making shots. Walker did score 17 points but was just 4-for-19 from the field, settling for bad shots despite open lanes to the basket. Courtney Lee, doing some wonderful defensive work on Dwyane Wade occasionally, seemed to emulate his backcourt partner, shooting just 3-for-9. Lee had more minutes than anyone, playing 42.
The key from this game is taking the right conclusions and riding with them. Clifford isn’t going to stop starting Walker, but limiting him in both minutes and his freedom on the floor can only do the Hornets and the player himself some good. Balancing the Zeller-Jefferson minutes was smart, and finally finding a way to use Kaminsky, who looked like a lost puppy in the first two games, is a real series changer. But his ace here is Lin, no matter how you look at it. Every time the Hornets miss a key player Lin steps up. Maybe it’s something off the court giving him a boost, but he seems to be a different player when his coach actually treats him like an important player, which he clearly is.