Before the Hornets beat the Miami Heat on Saturday, they had lost 12 straight playoff games, dating back to 2001. In that timespan, the Heat won three titles and made it to the finals two other times. The two teams finished with the same regular-season record this season, but the Heat were considered by many analysts (including Zach Lowe and Albert Burneko) to have the most credible chances of upsetting Cleveland.
But after tonight’s controversial 90-88 win, the Hornets are now one game away from bouncing them. The Heat torched the everliving shit out of their opponents in the first two games, and dropped some historic efficiency numbers, and it looked like they’d just keep on rolling. Things got worse when Nic Batum turned his ankle and looked like he’d miss the series. And yet, somehow, the Hornets ripped off three straight wins, found a way to neutralize Hassan Whiteside, and get to head home to take a crack at a series win. How did we get here?
Despite coach Steve Clifford’s warning about the tonic of “adjustments”, shuffling his lineups got his team going. Swapping Al Jefferson and Frank Kaminsky into the starting lineup helped them settle into games offensively earlier, and getting Cody Zeller the hell away from Hassan Whiteside (who he can’t handle) was also a good bonus.
Marvin Williams also finally woke up tonight and hit some threes, and the team’s bench overpowered Miami’s backups. This evening’s game was close all the way to the end, and the finish had a series of controversial no-calls. Courtney Lee had a chance to put the Hornets up late, when Dwyane Wade chased him down and caused him to miss with either some goaltending or some intimidating.
Then, after a stop, Lee grabbed an offensive rebound (his only board of the game), and hit the do-ahead dagger with 25 seconds left.
After a great defensive series from the Hornets, Wade drove into the teeth of the defense and appeared to take some heavy contact. Nothing was called, and the Hornets escaped with the win. Erik Spoelstra was none too pleased.
As terribly unreassuring as it is to hear after a tough loss like this one, those missed calls tend to even out over the course of a game—and in Wade’s case, the course of the last two minutes. Neither team has remotely lived up to the offensive excellence of the Heat’s first two games, but this series has been the Eastern Conference’s most entertaining matchup, not that that’s a high bar to clear. Miami has been dogshit on the road all season, and they’ll have to overcome a now-healthy Charlotte team on Friday. For entertainment’s sake, I hope they do.