It’s hard to think of one word that descibes how bad the Charlotte Hornets looked in game of their first round NBA Playoffs series, losing 123-91 to the Miami Heat. Steve Clifford looked clueless, Kemba Walker showed how useless a scoring point guard can be, everyone forgot how to pass the ball and Jeremy Lin was underused, misused and generally put in a position which denied him and the team any chance of succeeding.
The Miami Heat were the complete opposite. They knew each mismatch to take advantage of, which weak spots to attack and looked almost as if they knew what the Hornets were going to do. We wrote a time or two about Clifford being preidctable to a fault, and his unimaginative lineup selection, substitutions and overall look of the team on both end of the floor simply oozed of awful coaching, or nothing of it at all.
The two things that say the most about how bad of a job Clifford did was the horrible way the Hornets dealt with their bad start, giving up 41 points in the first quarter.
- There was no help defense, as Hassan Whiteside did whatever he wanted to down low, and often seeing Courtney Lee or Marvin Williams as the “big” men left to protect the rim. Al Jefferson, Frank Kaminsky and Cody Zeller looked helpless when they were even in the zone
- No ball movement. The Hornets finished with a total of 11 assists. The starting lineup, which includes the two assist leaders on this team, Kemba Walker and Nicolas Batum, had a total of five. Jeremy Lin finished with a team high 3.
Lin played 25 minutes, scoring 9 points and adding two boards and three dimes. He was part of what you might call of a penalty kill lineup when he came on, which for a moment seemed like it was stopping the tide. Lin provided good defense on Goran Dragic and when he got a chance to do something with the ball, kept attacking the rim. He got fouls out of some players, going to the line (5-for-6).
But Clifford doesn’t change, and no one seemed to be in a mood to share the ball. Dwyane Wade bullied Lin to the basket three times while no help in the form of double teams or some bigger player coming to help and protect the basket was in sight. Meanwhile, the Heat kept making shots, finishing with 57.6% from the field and 50% from beyond the arc. Luol Deng scored 31 points while Dragic and Wade combined for 17 assists.
Clifford preferred to not give up on his previous ways. Play through Walker, who looks like he doesn’t belong in this series defensively, while his 19 points absolutely nothing (he finished with -32 in his 32 minutes). Nicolas Batum scored 24 points and did try a few times to try some difficult threat passes. But again, trying to score on his own most of the time was less than beneficial for the team.
So what now? Frank Kaminsky might see very little minutes after this one, showing how little he’s progressed since his first day in the league, showing 0 defensive awareness and very little on offense besides shooting the ball. Maybe Tyler Hansbrough makes more sense. Jefferson might be capable of putting fouls on Whiteside, unlike anyone else on this team. Lin can provide a change of pace, and at least an attempt to move the ball.
But Clifford is Clifford. he believes in one player, one system, until it’s too late. It’s hard to believe he won’t make any adjustments heading into game 2, but it might be a bit too late. He looked incapable of making them as his team got crushed in game 1, and might be already out of ideas through his narrow minded approach to this series on how to change things for the better.