No, it’s not quite over. But the Charlotte Hornets are hanging by no more than their fingernails now, staring into the playoff abyss once more after losing to Miami 115-103 Wednesday night.
The victory pushes Miami to a 2-0 lead in the best-of-7 series, and even worse it appears quite likely that Nic Batum’s rolled and re-injured ankle will keep him out for the rest of the series.
“We’re not out of it,” Hornets center Al Jefferson declared. This came shortly after Jefferson saw Batum’s ankle up close and gave this dire pronouncement: “Me personally, I don’t think Nic will be able to come back.”
The game in Miami was actually a game this time, as Charlotte lost by 12 instead of 32. Jefferson (25 points) was very good and so was Kemba Walker (29) until the end. The Hornets were actually within seven points with three minutes left until Miami’s Dwyane Wade (28 points, eight assists) took over.
But cue the “Crying Jordan” meme: Historically, teams in the NBA who go down 0-2 in a seven-game playoff series have come back and win the entire series only six percent of the time.
The Hornets were better Wednesday, for sure, but they don’t look a bit like a team that could beat Miami four games out of five. Now it’s just a matter of pride – of Charlotte winning at home at least once on Saturday or Monday to avoid getting swept out of the playoffs for the third straight time.
In reality, I’m sure Hornets owner Michael Jordan isn’t crying. But I can guarantee you he’s mad. Since the NBA returned to Charlotte in 2004, this franchise is now 0-for-10 in playoff games.
Coincidentally, 0-for-10 was also what Hornets starting power forward Marvin Williams shot from the field Wednesday night, making him 1-for-17 in the series. After such a strong regular season – and despite the hundreds of extra shots he launched during the off days in Miami – Williams has not been able to make a thing when it has counted most. And that’s just one of the Hornets’ many problems.
Charlotte had the seventh-most made 3-pointers in an NBA season this year. Not No. 7 this season – No. 7 all-time! Then the Hornets went 1-for-16 Wednesday in Miami, easily the worst they have shot all year.
Still, it wasn’t the offense that lost the game for Charlotte. As Hornets coach Steve Clifford said, “If we score 103 points, we have to win.”
It was the fact that Miami shot 16-for-19 – an unreal 84.2 percent – in a record-breaking, 43-point second quarter for the Heat that was ultimately the difference. After Charlotte played well in a 29-29 first quarter, Miami shot unbelievably well once more to run away with the game.
There were fewer dunks and more jumpers for Miami this time, but it didn’t matter. Miami shot the ball at a better rate than most of us could on the backyard goal, shooting uncontested four-footers.
The Heat had 41 points in the first quarter of Game 1, followed by 43 points in the second quarter in Game 2. Both were back-breakers. I guess it stands to reason 45 is coming from Miami in the third quarter of Game 3. And this is a Miami team that scored five points – five!– in a quarter against Boston a week ago.
This time Clifford didn’t call his Hornets defense “terrible” and “disorganized” like he did after Game 1. Charlotte actually thought it got the right guys shooting the ball from outside –players like Goran Dragic and Justice Winslow – and they just kept knocking them down. Gastonia’s Hassan Whiteside was 8-for-8 on the way to 17 points. And Wade was terrific the whole game.
“The best closer in basketball,” Dragic called him.
It was also true that for the second straight game, the player the Hornets could have had in the 2015 draft (Justise Winslow) outplayed the one they chose instead (Frank Kaminsky). In two games, Kaminsky has yet to score a field goal in the series despite playing 37 total minutes.
So the Hornets come home bedraggled and beaten, in need of a near-miracle to win their first playoff series since the “Classic Hornet” years.
No, they aren’t out of it. Jefferson is technically right.
But much like Batum’s ankle, it looks bad. Really bad.