Kemba Walker sat next to fellow guard Jeremy Lin on Monday night after the Charlotte Hornets’ Game 4 playoff victory for the second straight game.
Walker didn’t look to his left at Lin when he called him one of the best in the league at getting into the lane, because Walker didn’t have to.
Lin knows it.
Lin penetrated the Miami Heat defense time and again in the Hornets’ 89-85 victory that tied the Eastern Conference series 2-2. He scored 21 points – all off the bench – and was the second-leading scorer behind only Walker.
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“The way they’re playing, if you can’t drive the ball, you’re literally going to have to take contested shot after contested shot,” Hornets coach Steve Clifford said. “They’re going to take the 3 away. And (Lin’s) great strength, or one of them, is his ability to drive the ball in the paint, which is critical, particularly in this series.”
Miami has effectively taken the 3-pointer from the Hornets, who lived behind the arc throughout the season. The Heat was successful in that plan in the first two games but has failed at it in the two contests in Charlotte.
As Miami forward Joe Johnson put it, the Hornets were able to get into the teeth of the Heat’s defense. The main culprit was Lin, who took a game-high nine attempts from the free-throw line.
“Man, it’s very frustrating,” Johnson said of Lin’s driving. “We’re trying everything possible as far as keeping him in front and guys going straight up and trying not to foul. But obviously officials see it another way.”
Miami center Hassan Whiteside was at a loss for words on how well Lin draws fouls.
“You’ve just got to watch out for him, because he likes to throw his arms into people and likes to pump fake and get to the free throw line,” Whiteside said. “You’ve got to basically, I don’t know, man. I really don’t. I don’t even have an answer for it. I don’t know.”
Though Lin finished tied with his career high in points in a postseason game, it was the damage he did in the first half that Clifford said kept the home team in the game.
Lin had 11 points on 3-of-5 shooting, and he made all five of his first-half free-throw attempts.
“I was just trying to come in and bring energy,” Lin said. “Coming off the bench is definitely different. If you don’t bring it, you probably won’t play the rest of the half, and that’s just part of being a bench player. So any time I come in, I try to pick up the speed a little bit. I felt like our team needed a little bit of energy, and I did that. Thankfully, I got to the line a few times and was able to calm me down and get my rhythm.”
But Monday night wasn’t all about slicing into the lane and drawing a foul. Even as the Heat took away most of Charlotte’s good 3-point looks, Lin was still able to find one in the fourth quarter.
Four minutes into the final quarter, Lin took a shot that banked in off the glass. He ran back down the court and offered a shrug similar to the one the team’s owner, Michael Jordan, once gave in 1992.
“No, no. I didn’t even think about that until after the game when they said that,” Lin said. “That was just – me and Kemba were talking about it – it was ‘Angels in the Outfield,’ blessing from God. That shot, when I let it go, I was like there’s no chance it’s going in. And it went in. So thank God.”