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Dragic, Heat dominate in decisive game to oust Hornets

Critical third quarter pushes Miami into second round

POSTED: May 1, 2016 6:23 PM ET

By Lang Whitaker

BY Lang Whitaker

NBA.com

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Hornets vs. Heat

Goran Dragic scores 25 points, Hassan Whiteside adds 10 with 12 boards and five blocks as Miami advances past Charlotte, 106-73.

— In the biggest game of their season, a decisive Game 7 first round matchup against the Charlotte Hornets, the Miami Heat were white hot.

While the final score of 106-73 was impressive for the Heat, it wasn't quite so easy.

With 3:36 to play in the first half, the Heat led 44-40.

By the end of the third quarter, the Heat were up 83-53.

Sometimes life comes at you fast.

Miami's best player in Game 7 was point guard Goran Dragic, who was consistently aggressive. During the second quarter, a rejection from Hassan Whiteside led to a Dragic one-man fastbreak, where he went around the back near midcourt, then lost a pair of defenders by spinning under the rim for a reverse layup, like something out of a game of NBA 2K.

"[Dragic] was playing against a great player," said Miami coach Erik Spoelstra. "Kemba Walker is one of the best in this league. It is a travesty that he is not an All-Star. Goran Dragic was not discouraged; he wanted to produce for the team."

While Dragic sped around the perimeter, Charlotte had no answer on the interior for Hassan Whiteside, who was too active for Al Jefferson and too quick for the hobbled Cody Zeller. Whiteside cleaned up on the interior and allowed Miami's perimeter players to gamble and be aggressive defensively. Whiteside finished with 10 points and 12 rebounds. ("We held him to just five blocks," quipped Charlotte coach Steve Clifford.)

For two teams that had played relatively evenly over the series, especially the last four games, the Heat found a different level in Game 7. Miami played with patience, poise and purpose, particularly on the offense end. The Hornets sent double teams, but the Heat players calmly found open teammates, giving up good shots for great shots. Five Heat players finished in double figures, with Joe Johnson just one point shy of joining the club.

Game 7 Blowouts
Margin Date Score Round
40 May 7, 2005 Dallas 116 vs. Houston 76 Round 1
39 April 6, 1948 Philadelphia 85 at St. Louis 46 Conference finals
35 April 9, 1970 Los Angeles Lakers 129, Phoenix 94 Semifinals
34 May 4, 2008 Boston 99, Atlanta 65 Round 1
33 May 1, 2016 Miami 106, Charlotte 73 Round 1
Per Elias
Home team in bold

For Charlotte, virtually nothing went right. As memorable as the game was for Dragic, the day was forgettable for his Charlotte counterpart, Kemba Walker. After scoring 37 in Charlotte's Game 6 loss, Walker went 3-16 in Game 7, finishing with a career postseason low of nine points. Frank Kaminsky made a difference when he moved into Charlotte's starting five in Game 3, but today the Heat challenged him with Luol Deng, playing an undersized power forward, and Kaminsky finished 3-15 from the floor. As Dwyane Wade said, "The emergence of Luol Deng was the most important thing to salvage this season."

Clifford mentioned that 50-50 balls had been a problem for the Hornets all season, and Game 7 was no different. Whether it was luck or just hard work, the Heat consistently came up with loose balls, like Johnson grabbing an offensive rebound and finishing at the end of the third quarter while surrounded by Hornets, or rookie Josh Richardson beating four Hornets to a loose ball even while up 30 in the fourth quarter.

For the Miami Heat, playing important postseason games on Biscayne Bay is nothing new. Coming into today, the Heat had faced a do-or-die Game 7 situation eight times in franchise history. They'd won five of those games, and hadn't lost a Game 7 in Miami since 2005. Meanwhile, the Hornets had played exactly one Game 7 in franchise history.

After being down 3-2 and on the brink of elimination, the Heat won two straight to advance to the Conference Semifinals for the first time since 2014.

"You have to go through the fire together," said Spoelstra. "That is when you truly grow. When you face adversity together, you get to know each other. We have been through a lot this year. There have been a lot of emotions with that, but we are still standing."

This Heat team may not be exactly the same group that romped to the NBA Finals four straight times a few years back, but judging from the way they played today, Miami can still throw flames when necessary.

Lang Whitaker has covered the NBA since 1998. You can e-mail him here or follow him on Twitter.

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