The Charlotte Hornets played one of the best and grittiest games in the franchise’s existence Wednesday night, edging Miami 90-88 to take a 3-2 lead in this best-of-7 series.
Game 6 will be played Friday night in Charlotte, with the Hornets having a chance to clinch a thrilling series at home. After losing the first two games in Miami, the Hornets have now won three straight – this one on the road after Courtney Lee grabbed an offensive rebound and made an enormous 3-pointer with 25.2 seconds left.
What did it mean?
It means that the Charlotte NBA franchise, which hadn’t won a single playoff game since the “Classic Hornets” had their swan song in 2002, is now one game away from winning a series. If the Hornets do win the series – and at this point it would be almost surprising it they don’t – Charlotte will play the winner of the Toronto-Indiana series in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
Lee’s 3-pointer was just the last and best shot of a tremendous fourth quarter for Charlotte (he was 1-for-8 before he took it). Trailing by six points entering the period, the Hornets hit one tough shot after another to whittle away Miami’s lead in a place where Miami hadn’t lost for more than a month.
A depleted Nic Batum, who hadn’t scored a field goal all night in his return from injury, made two huge 3-pointers in the fourth quarter. Marvin Williams, Spencer Hawes and Jeremy Lin all contributed baskets on an offensive night that was off for Kemba Walker (4-for-18, 14 points). And then Lee – for the second straight game – found his way to an offensive rebound in the final 30 seconds and scored off of it.
In Game 4, Lee got a rebound and got fouled. He then made two free throws to clinch a four-point Charlotte win. In Game 5, he first missed a contested layup with a minute left with Charlotte down 88-87, but then came back with another rebound off Walker’s miss and made the deciding 3-pointer.
“The message after I missed that layup was just ‘Play on,’ ” Lee said.
“Look, Lee has made the two biggest plays of the last two games and they’ve both been offensive rebounds,” Hornets coach Steve Clifford said.
“It hurts losing at home,” Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said. “But welcome to the playoffs. They only start when someone loses at home.”
Miami had two chances to tie after Lee made his shot, but Walker partially blocked Goran Dragic’s shot from the corner. Dwyane Wade got the offensive rebound and then had his putback blocked by Lee.
“Dwyane got fouled,” Spoelstra said flatly. But there was no call. The Hornets retrieved the ball, called timeout and finally got the ball inbounds on the second try with 2.3 seconds left. Two Heat players bounced off Cody Zeller as he held the ball in disbelief and exultation as a bunch of angry Miami fans packed up and stormed out of the arena.
The two teams had split everything down the middle so far this season. They were 2-2 in the regular season and they were 2-2 through the first four games of their playoff series, with each team successfully protecting its home court in the postseason. The Hornets led by as many as 12 points in the second quarter, helped by Miami starting out the quarter 0-for-9. Miami then led for most of the second half before Charlotte’s big comeback.
Beyonce was playing down the street, kicking off her latest world tour at the usual home of the Miami Marlins. So Game 5 was only the second-most important entertainment event in Miami.
In Charlotte, however, it was cause for celebration. The Hornets did something special Wednesday night, finally winning a playoff game on the road. If they can win Friday night at home, it will be even better.
Hornets vs. Heat
Hornets lead series 3-2
Heat 123, Hornets 91
Heat 115, Hornets 103
Hornets 96, Heat 80
Hornets 89, Heat 85
Hornets 90, Heat 88
at Charlotte, TBD
at Miami, TBD
* if necessary