The Charlotte Hornets were one of the league’s best at protecting the paint in the regular season, but Miami flipped that on its head in the first two games of the Eastern Conference playoff series played in Miami.
The Hornets allowed 56 and 46 points in the paint in the first two games , and something had to change Saturday night as as they returned home for Game 3.
Hornets coach Steve Clifford went with a bigger lineup and his team was far more aggressive on both ends of the floor, dominating inside .
Charlotte nearly doubled the Heat in points in the paint, winning the battle 52-28 en route to the 96-80 victory.
Al Jefferson was a craftsman in the post in the first half working for 10 points. Straddled with two early fouls, Heat center Hassan Whiteside had to play soft, and Charlotte took advantage of that.
“You know Miami lives in the paint, they were getting 40, almost 50 points in the paint the first two games,” center Al Jefferson said. “I think we protected the paint very well tonight. Forced them to take shots and we were helping each other. They beat one of us and the second guy was there.”
Charlotte allowed only 40 points in the paint per game during the regular season, but the Hornets had trouble against the Heat in the paint all season. Whiteside’s length and Miami’s unorthodox pick-and-rolls threw off Charlotte.
Saturday night, the Hornets had the answer.
Finding his stroke: Marvin Williams missed his first shot and there was a palpable fear across Time Warner Cable Arena that Game 3 would be like the others.
Williams was 1-for-17 in the first two contests, including an 0-for-10 showing in Game 2.
He put those fears to rest quickly.
Williams scored 12 points. He knocked down two of his three 3-point attempts, finally finding his stroke after his best long-range shooting season of his 11-year career.
He added 14 rebounds, giving him his first career playoff double-double.
Streak snapped: The Hornets won’t be on the ugly side of playoff history.
With the win against Miami, the Hornets snapped a 12-game losing streak in the postseason dating back to the original Hornets in 2002.
That mark ties the all-time NBA record set by the New York Knicks that stretched from 2001-2013.
Charlotte lost in the Eastern Conference semifinals in 2002 to the New Jersey Nets 4-1. Charlotte took Game 3 and lost the final two contests.
Since then, the Hornets have dropped first-round series to Orlando and Miami in four games, and both of those series took place when Charlotte was the Bobcats.
Bench points: The Heat got next to nothing from its bench in Game 3, the first playoff game in which Miami actually needed it.
Miami’s bench scored 13 points while Charlotte’s bench lit up the Heat with 34 .
Rookies Josh Richardson and Justise Winslow contributed the Heat’s bench points. Richardson went 1-for-5 and Winslow was 1-for-7 while getting totally outmatched on the defensive end.
Jeremy Lin’s 18 points off the bench were a team high for the Hornets. Cody Zeller added 12 after Clifford opted for Jefferson in the starting rotation.
Hive coming alive: Time Warner Cable Arena was at its loudest late in the third quarter.
With the Hornets up 11 after making three consecutive baskets, Kemba Walker ran down the court and found Lin open for a 3-pointer.
Lin knocked down the 26-footer and the Hive erupted in celebration. Players on Charlotte’s bench all stood and cheered, including owner Michael Jordan.
The 3-pointer forced Miami coach Erik Spoelstra to call a timeout, and the Heat never recovered from the deficit.