The Charlotte Hornets sure looked like a team that missed being at home during the first two games of this series with the Miami Heat. After consecutive convincing losses on the scoreboard, compounded by the loss of Nicolas Batum on the court, things weren't looking so great for the Buzz. Then Frank Kaminsky happened.
Things didn't look to great at the start of Saturday's Game 3, with Luol Deng getting things going right where he left off in Miami. The Heat forward hit 4-for-4 from 3-point range in the opening quarter, leading all scorers with 12 points. Fortunately, the rest of the Miami roster wasn't ready to join him in his scorching start which helped keep things close. Al Jefferson also helped keep things close, scored the first couple of baskets for Charlotte, attacking Hassan Whiteside immediately and often. Jefferson finished the first half 5-for-9 with 10 points, three rebounds and two assists.
Miami pushed the lead out to five points a little more than halfway through the first quarter, but Charlotte started to close the gap from there, led by super-sub Jeremy Lin who scored 8 points in his first five minutes in the game. The game was close the rest of the way through the half and Charlotte took advantage of Whiteside sitting with two fouls to escape the first quarter with the lead, 29-28.
The second quarter was much more of a grind, both teams slowing down. Hornets coach Steve Clifford was clear in his time with the press between games that he was satisfied with points per possession, but it was the number of possessions that needed to be addressed. A slower, grind game much more suitable to Miami than Charlotte. Still, as the half drew to a close there was a lot of settling for shots instead of attacking basketball on offense. Kemba Walker, who had nine points, four assists and a steal in the first half, got a mismatch through ball screen and then elected to simply settling for shooting a 3-point over the defender. Courtney Lee eventually did the same thing. On the other end of the floor, it was the same as Wade settled for a lot of mid-range jumpers, some that hit and some that missed.
Marvin Williams bounced back, scoring seven points to go with five rebounds, as he hit three shots in the first half, which is triple the total he made in the first two games combined. While Williams seemed to be recovering his form, the rookies were not. Frank Kaminsky got the start with Batum out injured, and he scored just two points, from free throws, in 17 minutes of first half play. Meanwhile, Justise Winslow of the Heat had three points in 15 minutes, missing multiple wide-open corner 3-point attempts.
The pace had slowed and players were settling, but some of that was probably due to considerably improved defensive effort from the Charlotte Hornets. Lee played some inspired defense on Wade in the second quarter and the team locked in as a whole, allowing just 16 points to Miami on 5-of-22 shooting. They also forced seven first half Miami turnovers, committing just two. At halftime, the score was 49-44, Charlotte.
As if all the Twitter reactions could be simultaneously experienced by Kaminsky, he decided to destroy the third quarter. After Walker hit two from the line, the Heat went on a 7-0 run. And that was that. The Hornets outscored Miami 24-7 the rest of the quarter, including an 18-0 run and 13 points from big Frank the Tank.
It looked like it could have gone either way for the first few minutes of the third, as the Heat erased the Hornets small lead and Deng fired in yet another 3-point make. Charlotte was able to take a very big sigh of relief, however, when Frank went streaking. When the dust settled on Charlotte's big offensive explosion, and great accompanying defense, it was 75-58.
By the time the game was midway through the fourth, the Hornets had held their lead largely thanks to the great work of Walker, Lin, and yes Kaminsky. Marvin Williams didn't have a huge game scoring, but he played so much better in this game than in the previous two and pulled a double-double for points and rebounds. The effort is there. This game was night and day from the performances turned in on the road. The lead was all the way up to 22 with less than four minutes to play.
Charlotte needed to win this game, so they did. Now, they need to repeat this performance. It doesn't have to be all Kaminsky, but Williams, Lin and Walker all need to score points. Lee needs to keep playing stiff defense on Wade and the Jefferson-Cody Zeller combo needs to put fouls on Whiteside. The Heat still lead the series, 2-1, but Charlotte looked really good tonight and the Hornets could be off and running. Hornets win, 96-80.