After Sunday’s 32-point shellacking by the Miami Heat, Charlotte Hornets coach Steve Clifford went back in time to show his team the playoff series isn’t over after one game.
Clifford pointed to the 1985 NBA Finals when the Celtics clobbered the Lakers 148-114 in what became known as the Memorial Day Massacre. The Lakers bounced back and won the series in six games.
Of course it sounds cliché to say it doesn’t matter in the playoffs whether you lose by 30 or by one because you’re still down 1-0. But that’s the message Clifford has impressed on his players, and the players who spoke to the media Tuesday repeated it.
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“It doesn’t matter how much you lose by; it’s still one game,” Clifford told the Observer. “It all starts in an approach and belief in what you’re doing and understanding where you’re at.
“And the reality is that we’re just one game down. If we can win Wednesday and play better, then we’re in good shape.”
Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said something similar after his team lost to the Oklahoma City Thunder by 38 points on Saturday. Then the Mavericks won Game 2 on Monday to even the series.
That’s the kind of proof-positive the Hornets can use.
“Just try to understand why and figure out what happened and correct it and move on,” forward Nic Batum said. “That game was really a bad game, but just one game. We have to move on and just say OK that was an accident.
“You can watch (Monday) night. The Mavs came back and won Game 2. I’m sure between those two games you just try to work on it and understand why you struggled.”
The main focus in the two days after the loss was defense. Clifford reiterated how terrible Charlotte’s defense was Sunday, which led to a franchise postseason record 123 points for Miami.
Miami was so effective in the pick-and-roll, and the Hornets will try to solve that problem. Clifford mentioned how Heat coach Erik Spoelstra makes up for the team’s lack of range shooting by playing perimeter and post players along the baseline randomly in the Heat’s halfcourt sets, which regularly happens in the NBA.
That makes the Heat’s offense, especially off pick-and-roll, less predictable. That led to several defensive lapses by the Hornets and easy baskets for the Heat.
“One of the biggest things you do in the playoffs is what you do game to game,” Clifford said. “I think we put a big dent in what we have to fix defensively (Monday). We’ll work on it (Tuesday). You can’t just go out and play. You have to go out and play correctly and that’s what we have to use (Tuesday) for.”
When the Hornets take the floor Wednesday, it will have been more than 72 hours since the Game 1 tipoff. That’s a lot of time to think about what went wrong.
The Hornets were one of the league’s most resilient teams this season. They had the third-best winning percentage (.750) in the second of back-to-back games.
Charlotte was also 11-6 after losing the previous game by double digits.
But by the time the Hornets take the floor Wednesday night, it will have been more than 72 hours since the Game 1 tipoff. That’s a lot of time to think about what went wrong in that game.
After Sunday’s loss, Walker predicted the next few days would “suck.” He affirmed that prediction Tuesday.
“The only thing that’s been on my mind is how bad we lost,” Walker said. “I’m just ready to play, man. That’s it.”
The lessons to learn are in front of these Hornets. They have the tape from Sunday’s embarrassment and two days of practice to fix it.
They’ll have the Celtics-Lakers example from more than 30 years ago and the Mavericks-Thunder example from Monday that will help them know they can tie the series 1-1 before returning to Charlotte.
“We just have to be more ready,” Batum said. “That was the first playoff game and sometimes you can be surprised with the intensity and stuff like that. Now we know. We have no excuses now.”