To try and win their first playoff series in more than a decade, the Charlotte Hornets have gone old school.
When Game 5 of the Charlotte-Miami series is played at 8 p.m. Wednesday night in Miami – with the series tied 2-2 after Charlotte won twice at home – expect the Hornets to play offense like it’s 1999. Because of the way the Heat has decided to run Charlotte off the 3-point line at the expense of everything else, Charlotte has almost abandoned the 3-pointer in favor of Kemba Walker and Jeremy Lin driving to the basket and Al Jefferson setting up on the left block and running through his array of post moves.
The Hornets averaged 10.6 made 3s per game in the regular season. In this series, they are averaging a mere four.
That translates to about 20 points per game the Hornets are missing. Where they are making it up is inside and in transition – Charlotte outscored a bigger Miami team 44-30 in the paint in Game 4 and 9-0 on fast-break points.
Walker, in particular, has been amazing. Whenever the Hornets really need a basket, they set a high pick for him and let him do what he does.
“What can you say?” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said of Walker after he torched the Heat for 34 points Monday night: “He’s a brilliant, dynamic pick-and-roll player.”
Miami’s Dwyane Wade called Kemba “crafty” and “shifty” after Game 4. “He’s a handful off the pick-and-rolls,” Wade said. “There’s only so much you can do with that little guy.”
The Heat is playing defense almost like a college team, according to Hornets coach Steve Clifford, with hard ball pressure and gambling in the passing lanes. Miami knows if it makes a mistake that the NBA’s best rim protector, Hassan Whiteside, is lurking in the paint, so it has sprinted out at every possible 3-point shooter.
But Charlotte has gone at Whiteside, especially in the past two games. To do anything else wouldn’t work – as Clifford pointed out, all you end up doing that way is shooting a bunch of contested jumpers.
Although Clifford was happy Charlotte won both games at home, he wasn’t particularly happy with the way the ball moved on offense. “We have to get some more ball movement,” Clifford said. “We have to have a variety of ways to score.”
Charlotte’s Nic Batum has missed the past two games with a foot injury and is questionable for Wednesday’s game. Without him, Charlotte has struggled to find as many good shots.
“Where we miss Nic is offensively,” Clifford said. “The biggest thing he does for Kemba is the way Nic plays, Kemba gets the ball back with space. He’s not going to get that now. Nic creates shots for everybody. But that’s not an excuse. We have enough to win.”
And indeed the Hornets won twice without Batum at home, improving their defensive effort considerably. On offense, Walker and Lin combined for 55 points in an 89-85 Game 4, and Jefferson’s post-up moves have bothered Heat center Whiteside.
To win in Miami, of course, is a much harder thing. Clifford said the Hornets will have to combine their offense from Games 1 and 2 with their defense from Games 3 and 4 to win against a team that hasn’t lost at home in more than a month.
That will be difficult. But winning two games in a row at home was no easy thing either. And if it happens, it’s going to happen in an old-school way.
Hornets vs. Heat
Series tied 2-2
Heat 123, Hornets 91
Heat 115, Hornets 103
Hornets 96, Heat 80
Hornets 89, Heat 85
at Miami, 8 (TNT)
at Charlotte, TBD
at Miami, TBD
* if necessary