It's been a mixed bag of a week for the Charlotte Hornets. After coming out flat against the Mavericks, they roared back to life against the Magic and held off a late run to return to their winning ways. And not a moment too soon as they had the second night of a back-to-back against division rival Miami. The game against the Heat held all kinds of implications for the overall conference standings, division standings, and tie-breakers. Charlotte needed to come out strong and like Floorpunch said, put 50 on red, and better be right.
Miami struck first, getting out to a quick 4-0 lead, but thanks to some hot shooting Charlotte kept it close. The long ball was working for the Hornets, who started 5-for-5 on 3-point attempts. However, they couldn't hit the broad side of a barn on 2-pointers, starting 1-for-10. Both teams seemed pretty evenly matched for the first few minutes before Miami went on a 9-0 run, taking the lead 18-14. After a Charlotte timeout, the Hornets roared back to take a 19-18 lead which lasted about one possession. At the end of the first quarter, Miami led 29-26.
In a playoff atmosphere, the chess match between coaches Steve Clifford and Erik Spoelstra was in play, both Hassan Whiteside and Al Jefferson starting on the bench. Big Al made an immediate impact when he got into the game and put up seven points in five minutes of action in the first quarter. Courtney Lee dropped in eight points of his own. Kemba Walker started slow, again, but had three assists early. Important that Walker played provider while his shot wasn't going down. Goran Dragic was doing business as well, either scoring or assisting on almost all of the Miami's early baskets. Nicolas Batum was also a slow starter, shooting 0-for-3 in nine minutes during that first quarter.
The second quarter was all kinds of ugly for about seven minutes. After putting up 26 points in the first quarter, Charlotte needed six-plus minutes of the second quarter to get five whole points. After Miami got their lead out to 15, 45-30, the Hornets went on a 7-0 run sparked by Kemba converting an and-one and then drilling a 3-pointer. Miami got some points back the run was on and Charlotte, who started with the quarter so slowly, finished out the final 5:45 of the half on a 24-7 run that gave them the 54-52 lead at the half.
Big Al was scoring and really getting his work in on the block. Whiteside played it mostly conservative in an attempt to avoid foul trouble, but the impact of Whiteside is real. It has to be more than coincidence that, despite Jefferson getting his, Whiteside had a +14 in the first half before getting hit with his third foul and going to the bench. As soon as he was out of the game, the Hornets run really kicked into gear. Whiteside didn't stay at a +14, but there was a relationship between Heat lead and his presence in the first half. Batum finally got a shot to go in with three minutes left in the first half and Kemba put up 13 points in the quarter.
In a back-and-forth third quarter, Charlotte found their first breathing room of the night. Pushing the lead by outscoring the Heat 28-21 in the quarter. After some bad giveaways in the first half, the Hornets calmed down and took better care of the ball. The turnovers were at one point 5-4, but by mid-fourth quarter, Miami had committed 14 and Charlotte just 7. Luol Deng had a fantastic game for Miami, kept them in it during a rough stretch to end the first half and throughout the third quarter. Charlotte's rookie, Frank Kaminsky had an inauspicious start but dropped a quick six points to punctuate a solid quarter, Hornets leading 82-73 heading into the fourth quarter.
During the second half there were a couple of notable changes, Lin got a downsized role in affairs. Which is a good thing. Because he was terrible. Fouls, turnovers, ugly bricks. Just wasn't Lin's night in Miami, he'll be back at it next game. Zeller did not play due to knee soreness. That meant Tyler Hansbrough got a lot of run and it seemed like he probably didn't enjoy most of it as Whiteside went on a mini-run while Hansbrough was out there with him.
The outstanding play from both sides in the fourth quarter was remarkable. Josh Richardson went off, but then went cold from line, missing three consecutive free throws over two separate trips. Batum made up for his slow first half, really keeping the Hornets afloat as the Heat cut into the Charlotte lead. Then, late, Williams missed two free throw attempts. With less than 15 seconds left, the Heat cut the Hornets lead to one, then sent who else but Jeremy Lin to the line. Lin showed some cold blood and calmly drilled both free throws, putting the Hornets up 107-104 with nine seconds on the clock. Wade made two and put Lin back on the line with 3.8 seconds left. Again, Lin sinks both free throw attempts. Talk about coming up clutch. Miami tried for the tie to force overtime, but failed. Final score, 109-106, Hornets win!
Big Al came off the bench and put up 21 and 10, battling Whiteside all night long and taking on a big minutes load in the second half in the Zeller absence. Talk about a big game, Charlotte gets a huge win in thriller at Miami and move to even with the Miami Heat and Boston Celtics on record for the season.