Scott Fowler

Hornets totally exposed in 33-point Game 7 playoff loss to Miami Heat

Charlotte Hornets players on the bench watch the final minute of the second half in Game 7 of their first-round NBA playoff series against the Miami Heat on Sunday. Miami won the game 106-73 and advances to the Eastern Conference semifinals.
Charlotte Hornets players on the bench watch the final minute of the second half in Game 7 of their first-round NBA playoff series against the Miami Heat on Sunday. Miami won the game 106-73 and advances to the Eastern Conference semifinals. AP

It wasn’t just embarrassing. It was also startling, this 106-73 beating that the Miami Heat put on the Charlotte Hornets in Game 7 of their first-round playoff series Sunday.

You know that dream everyone has at least once where you are in a public place and then you look down and realize you have no clothes on? That was the Hornets in this Sunday nightmare of a game – totally exposed.

Charlotte disintegrated completely in the face of a relentless Miami attack. Point your finger randomly anywhere on the boxscore and cringe.

Miami never trailed and outscored Charlotte in the paint 58-22. Hornets point guard Kemba Walker shot 3-for-16. Charlotte had only 11 third-quarter points. Frank Kaminsky led the Hornets with a modest 12 points – and shot 3-of-15 to get there.

“At the end of the day, whether it’s fair or not, you’re going to be viewed by how you do in the playoffs,” Hornets coach Steve Clifford said. “And that’s more than fair. We had a terrific regular season. This would have been a huge win for our franchise, for our city, and we came up short.”

Way, way short. Charlotte never had a chance in this one. Its chance was Game 6 – the Friday night game the Hornets absolutely had to win to grab this series. They had a great chance then – playing in front of a sellout home crowd on a court where they had already won 32 games this season – but Dwyane Wade took over in the final minute, and the opportunity vanished. That opportunity was never seen again, fading deep into the woods like a whitetail deer on the full run.

Said Marvin Williams, who Clifford disclosed after the game had played the last three games with an injury to his shooting elbow: “We were in a great position the other day to end the series and didn’t take an advantage of it. Then you put your back against the wall to come back here in a tough environment …”

Williams didn’t finish that sentence, but the sentiment was obvious. The Hornets tried – much like the Carolina Panthers did in the Super Bowl – but they never really had it for Game 7. They wilted. The Hornets are now 0-2 in Game 7s in franchise history, with the first loss coming 15 years ago.

“We still had a great year,” Clifford said. “We played a bad game.” That sounded a little like former Panthers coach John Fox’s “We picked a bad day to have a bad day” sentiment after a long-ago playoff loss.

It is true that one awful game should not diminish the rest of this team’s accomplishments. The Hornets won 48 regular-season games. They played unselfishly and hard. Most of the time – although never on Sunday – Walker looked like an all-star.

Said Walker afterward: “We have nothing to be ashamed of. We fought hard all year. … We’ll be back, better and stronger.”

But it was Miami that was far better and much stronger Sunday. This best-of-seven series started with a 32-point Miami win and ended with a 33-point Miami win. In between came five games that ranged from pretty good to remarkably good. But the alpha and omega of this series were just plain embarrassing to the Hornets.

On Sunday, Al Jefferson (four points) no longer looked crafty. He just looked old. Nic Batum was out there but obviously hurt. Every Hornets big man was thoroughly out-rebounded. And Walker – who ended up having 23 shots blocked in this series – couldn’t do anything right. Even when he got to the rim, somebody swatted it.

Meanwhile, Goran Dragic (25 points) dominated, making all the shots over Walker that Walker had usually made over Dragic. Luol Deng was superb as usual. And Hassan Whiteside, the Gastonia native who once honed his game at Charlotte’s YMCA while trying to get back into the NBA, will be able to buy that entire Y if he wants to with his next contract. Whiteside made everyone who drove the ball inside look like recreational players, blocking five shots and altering far more.

“He’s very intimidating inside,” Batum said.

The Hornets, meanwhile, have no rim protector, and in this series, that was an obvious deficiency. With a diminished Batum, the offense too often consisted of “Throw it to Kemba and hope.”

In Game 6, Walker made up for Batum’s absence with a 37-point game that was among the best he’s ever played.

In Game 7, Walker played one of his worst, and no one else made up the slack. Miami moved on to the second round. The Hornets went home to a batch of exit interviews, thinking about what might have been and knowing that two words will haunt them the entire offseason:

Game 6.