Sunday night, the Charlotte Hornets failed at three of the key elements that have allowed this team to win 48 games and make the playoffs.
They did not take, or make, many 3-pointers. They were sloppy on the defensive glass. And they allowed the Miami Heat to own the painted area in Miami’s 123-91 win in Game 1.
“We didn’t get any stops. I don’t think we got three stops in a row all night,” center Al Jefferson said. “They’re too good of a team (for us) to come into their home building and play like that and think it’s going to be fun.
“Yeah, it’s going to be fun for the other team. It wasn’t fun for us.”
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Charlotte only scored 91 points, but coach Steve Clifford said he wasn’t too concerned about the offense’s production. If the Hornets are to win games in this series, they will do it by scoring around 100 points. Miami’s defense won’t allow Charlotte to get much more than that.
The Hornets made just six 3-pointers on 17 attempts. That’s just a shade below their season average of 36.2, but Charlotte hoisted 12 more 3s per game than what they did Sunday night.
“I’m sure they’ll have a response to get more,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “It’s a big part of their game, and they take good ones, they take tough ones. They can make both, and they can get on a roll. That’s why their team that must be respected because of their offensive firepower.”
A lot of that has to do with their opponent. With 7-foot center Hassan Whiteside being the best rim protector in the league, the Heat can use its other four defenders to guard the 3-point line.
Charlotte, like most teams, generates its 3-point shooting by penetrating and dishing. As Whiteside scared away most plays at the rim, the rest of the Heat could comfortably guard outside.
“I don’t know, man. I wish I could tell you,” said Walker, struggling to understand how the Hornets only made six 3s. “I thought they did a great job defensively. They played well. They ran us off the line and contested our shots really well and made us miss. A lot of credit goes to those guys because they played well defensively.”
To compound Charlotte’s issues, the Hornets couldn’t stop Miami all night. The Heat scored in a variety of ways both expected and unexpected – like Luol Deng putting up 31.
The Hornets knew they were going to have a tough time in the paint defensively against the Heat. Charlotte was in the top-five in the regular season in opponent points in the paint, averaging 40 points allowed per game. But in the last regular-season match against Miami, Charlotte gave up 58 points in the paint.
Sunday night the Hornets gave up 56 points in the paint. So many of those came off pick-and-rolls that the Hornets failed to defend properly.
Whiteside had 267 points this season in the paint, which was eighth-most in the league. He’s a 70-percent shooter inside, too. But he hardly had to fight for his paint points in Game 1.
Twice in the third quarter the Heat lobbed it to Whiteside as he rolled for easy dunks.
“They really had everything on pick and roll,” center Cody Zeller said. “The guards scored. Whiteside scored on lobs. They scored on kickouts. We really didn’t take anything away.”
And when the Heat didn’t score in the paint, it collected plenty of offensive rebounds. Charlotte was the league’s best in defensive rebounding percentage, grabbing 79.8 percent of all potential boards. Sunday night the Hornets collected just 61 percent of them as the Heat got 14 offensive rebounds to produce 19 second-chance points.
“Not to take anything away from them, but we played, defensively, a terrible game,” Clifford said. “Terrible. Disorganized. Not intense. Nothing like what we’ll have to do. In terms of most of it it’s one-on-one technique, do your job. It’s going to be pretty simple. We’re not going to have to make a lot of adjustments. We’re just going to have to do it better.”
It sounds so simple. But simple eluded the Hornets in their first playoff game of the season.