The Charlotte Hornets entered Game 6 with the chance to close out the first round on their home court.Unfortunately, Luol Deng and Dwyane Wade had other ideas.
With the home crowd behind them, the Hornets got off to a strong start in the first quarter. Clifford kept his lineup intact, new father Nicolas Batum again starting the game from the bench.
Clifford's confidence paid off immediately. After a slow start by both teams, the Hornets caught some fire and raced out to an early lead, 18-11. The strong start was powered entirely by the work of Kemba Walker and Frank Kaminsky. Walker attacked the lane and scored from deep and Kaminsky did the same. The two combined for 16 points, three rebounds and three assists in the first seven minutes of the game.
After a quick timeout, Miami got right back into the game. They struggled early, committing four turnovers to zero from Charlotte, but Jeremy Lin and Nicolas Batum both committed turnovers quickly after entering the game. The Heat capitalized and got right back in the game going on a 9-0 run to take the lead back at 20-18. The rest of the quarter was back-and-forth scoring with the Heat maintain the lead, 27-24.
Hassan Whiteside picked up a second foul early, which is what Charlotte wanted, and went to the bench with 2:24 to play in the first. Everything else was business as usual for both sides entering the second quarter.
After a very slow first minute of play in which no one scored, Goran Dragic picked up his second foul and went to the bench. Cody Zeller had a strong end to the first and early second quarter, putting up 12, a career-high for the playoffs, points in his first ten minutes in the game. The Hornets rode his performance and improved care with the ball to take the lead back, but it would be a brief lead.
Luol Deng and Dwyane Wade led the Heat, first to double digits for the Heat, but they were able to establish their largest lead of the game midway through the second quarter thanks to the great play of Whiteside and Josh Richardson. Richardson was playing solid defense and knocking down 3-point attempts, a thing that Miami struggled with in their three losses in the series entering this game. All Whiteside did was stack up blocks and rebounds. A key sequence for the momentum of the quarter was a Whiteside block where he swatted a Walker layup that seemed destined for the net and the Heat turned the ball up court and found Richardson for an open 3-point make.
Another slowdown for the Hornets was the defense on Lin. Lin started 0-for-6, four points, an assist and a turnover. Miami corrected a lot of problems that existed in Games 3-5, the results were evident as the Heat pushed their lead to 10. Then 13. Overall, the Heat shot the lights out in the first half. They won the 3-point line and they won in the post. No team can lose both areas and hope to win. Heat had the lead, 59-50, at halftime.
The start of the second half saw a lot of similar problems as the first half, but there were some improvements. Dragic continued an off-night shooting, but so did Marvin Williams. Jefferson went back to work inside on Whiteside, but a nine-point lead for Miami got back out to 12 before Charlotte cut it back to seven.
Everything was going the way of the Heat throughout the contest, they shot 60 percent from the field in the first half, got big games from Deng and Wade, and the bench combo of Richardson and Winslow was devastating.
Rook 1 and Rook 2 as Miami fans refer to Winslow and Richardson respectively had big differentials in the first half, +10 for Rook 1 (Winslow) and +13 for Rook 2 (Richardson). Meanwhile, Williams struggled for Charlotte and wasn't alone. Lin had a very poor first half. He was -15 and Batum was -11.
The Hornets eventually cut the lead to five, but just went the crowd starting to get loud Deng decided to hit yet another open 3-point shot which put him over the 20-point mark. Fortunately, this dramatic and extremely entertaining series had another twist as Kemba came right back down and drew another foul on Dragic, earning three shots from the line. Charlotte was hanging around, within striking distance of the hot, hot Heat.
Big Al went back to work for the Hornets, eventually drawing the fourth foul on Whiteside which forced him to sit late in the third. And just went Charlotte pulled within three, the Heat found another source of scoring - Dragic. After having a 1-for-5 start, Dragic scored three huge baskets from up close to keep the Hornet attack at bay. The Hornets defense really tightened up in the third, forcing a lot of long possessions that went deep into the shot clock. When it was done, Miami scored just 16 points in the quarter, the first quarter that Charlotte won in this game.
The fourth quarter produced all kinds of trouble for the Hornets. The rebound advantage grew over the course of the game and all the extended possessions and second, third, and fourth attempts for the Heat added up.
Even when Lin and Lee both managed to score a field goal, Dragic just kept scoring. And the turnovers. Lin's no good game continued, he missed a contested layup in transition and then committed two charging fouls which squandered possessions in a game that hovered around a one possession game for most of the fourth quarter.
This game would have been academic by halfway through the fourth if not for Kemba's Herculean effort. While Lin, Lee and Williams all struggled to provide anything, Walker helped them stick around. But, it was an old man who turned the game on its head. With the Hornets charging to within two points on the back of Kemba, Wade starting gunning 3-point shots. And making them. When it was all said and done, it was two big shots from Wade, a 3-point make and a turn-around mid-range jumper over perfectly played defense by Lee, that helped seal Charlotte's fate. The Heat pulled out a big win, 97-90 and forced Game 7 which will be played in Miami on Sunday afternoon.