Nothing like Game 2 of the season to reunite two teams that went seven games in the playoffs last season after battling for division supremacy throughout the year. And this 97-91 victory did not disappoint.
Frank Kaminsky was inactive for the Hornets, opting for some styling street clothes instead of his No. 44 jersey. Charlotte started Kemba Walker, Nicolas Batum, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Marvin Williams and Roy Hibbert. Early on, it looked like the battle was going to be Hibbert and Hassan Whiteside. Unfortunately, Hibbert didn't last long, logging just over five minutes of action before heading to the bench.
He picked up two quick fouls and appeared hobbled as he headed to the bench. You could also speculate, as I did, that head coach Steve Clifford wanted to get Cody Zeller on the floor to run the pick-and-roll with Walker. The Heat had Justise Winslow guarding Kemba, and Hibbert hasn't had time to develop the same rim rolling chemistry that Zeller has with Walker. Blowing that theory out of the water, it was announced shortly before halftime that Hibbert was suffering from knee soreness and would not return to the game.
As for the game, Miami jumped to an early 10-2 lead thanks to some good 3-point shooting. It looked like Charlotte might respond quickly when Kidd-Gilchrist hit Williams in transition for a 3-pointer, but the Hornets never managed to climb completely out of that early hole. And that goes back to Whiteside.
Hassan played the first 10 minutes of the game, committing just one foul, with nine points and seven rebounds. On cue, Zeller attacked the rim with no Whiteside in his way. The Hornets were unable to force him off the floor, instead biding their time until he was subbed for rest. Still, the Hornets closed the gap only to fall behind again. Their defense was solid, forcing six Heat turnovers in the first quarter, but their offense struggled.
Batum started 0-for-4 and committed three turnovers before sinking his first shot. He was slow on a breakaway and let Winslow catch him. Fortunately, he was fouled and converted both free throws. Batum also let Dion Waiters pick his pocket, turning it into transition points for Miami.
It was a mixed back shooting in the first half, Charlotte started 3-for-5 from deep, but only shot 33 percent overall (7-for-21).
Hornets got some unexpected offense from Jeremy Lamb, who scored six points in eight first half minutes. MKG approached his career-best for blocks, swatting three shots in the first half. The story of the half was Charlotte's inability to take advantage of Whiteside on bench. Whiteside and Waiters played extremely hard, pushing lead to 10. With 30 seconds left in the half, Kemba gets first make of game, but a Heat rookie, Rodney McGruder, shot 3-for-4 and all his makes were from deep and each came at just the right time, keeping the Hornets at bay. It was 57-46 at halftime.
Miami went right back to work to start the second half, but Kidd-Gilchrist tied his career-high for blocks denying a Whiteside dunk from behind. The Hornets still couldn't do much to contain Whiteside, the block was his one miss in eight shots. Fortunately, Whiteside likes to score and looked off a series of open teammates standing beyond the 3-point line. Miami got their lead all the way to 19 at one point, but the Hornets went on an 8-0 run and finally put Whiteside in foul trouble, sending him to the bench with four fouls mid-way through the third.
Charlotte continued to shoot miserably, 34.4 from the field and 33.3 from 3-point range, but kept themselves in the game by creating a massive number of turnovers, 15, while committing very few themselves, six - one of the trademarks of a Clifford Hornets squad. Charlotte also had six blocks to two for the Heat. It was 77-73, Miami, at the end of the third quarter. Despite an underwhelming first half, Walker came alive in the second half.
The fourth quarter was tight, the teams trading baskets with the Hornets inching closer. To best demonstrate the bizarre nature of the Hornets comeback, Jeremy Lamb looked off a wide-open Spencer Hawes to improbably make a reverse layup that was stiffly defended and then gets a huge block on the other end of the floor. Of course, Charlotte took their first lead of the game, 81-79, with 8:51 left in the game thanks to a Ramon Sessions prayer flipped up over the rim.
The Hornets bench helped keep them in the game thanks to double-digit scoring from four subs. Lamb continued to feel it, going at Whiteside for multiple scores while Whiteside looked like a completely different player from the force that dominated in the first half. And then Kemba stepped it up. While the Heat looked lost and out of gas, Charlotte looked locked in. A Batum 3-point gave the Hornets their largest lead of the game, 94-84 with 2:45 left to play.
And then Whiteside woke up.
The game tightened as Hassan made one last push with some huge rebounds and scores, moving Miami within a single basket. Ultimately, the Heat fans that predictably trickled out several minutes earlier were justified as Charlotte took home a huge win on the road.
Jeremy Lamb and Spencer Hawes looked much better than even most optimists could have hoped for, pretty much righting the ship while the starters floundered. After a rough first half, Walker surged back and led all scorers with 24 points. Hawes answering the call when Hibbert was unable to return to the game was only eclipsed by the efforts of Lamb who was the player of the game for the Hornets, scoring 16 points with eight rebounds and one assist. For now, it appears that any questions about the Hornets bench depth have been answered.
Charlotte also took great care of the ball and played strong defense, forcing 19 turnovers total while only committing eight. When their shots weren't falling, they still figured out a way to score by converting 20 of 24 attempts at the free throw line.
The Hornets are back in action tomorrow night against the Boston Celtics. How did you see the game? Let us know in the comments.