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Dwyane Wade shedding a tear and getting emotional during the national anthem pic.twitter.com/4fW3Y60QQl
— gifdsports (@gifdsports) May 1, 2016
"Just focused," Wade, whose star turn late in Friday's Game 6 extended the Heat's season to make Sunday possible, explained to ABC's Doris Burke after the game. "Thinking about the moment. This team ... it's been, all season, we've had opportunities to cave, and every time we've been in that situation, we've somehow prevailed."
Wade and the Heat added another victory to that list on Sunday, thanks in large part to a pair of dominating performances from two talented teammates.
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Point guard Goran Dragic carved up Steve Clifford's defense all game long, repeatedly getting to the basket to the tune of 25 points — his highest offensive output in nearly two months — on 11-for-17 shooting to go with six rebounds, four assists and one block. Center Hassan Whiteside terrified Charlotte's offense, blocking five shots while altering and scuttling many more with his wingspan, activity, and combination of patience and aggressiveness in the paint.
Behind their stellar outings, and with multiple rotation pieces contributing strong play, the Heat absolutely took control of the game in the third quarter, leaving the Hornets stuck and stunned to pull away en route to a 106-73 blowout that gave Miami a 4-3 win in their best-of-seven opening-round series and sent the Heat on to the Eastern Conference semifinals. The 33-point margin is the fifth largest ever in a Game 7, according to ESPN Stats and Information, and it accurately reflects just how drastically what had been a two-possession game with 3:36 left in the third quarter turned around and, for the Hornets, fell apart.
The Heat got out to a strong start defensively, wrong-footing Charlotte a bit by showing double-teams at center Al Jefferson in the post, with Hassan Whiteside roaming a bit more as a shot-deterring menace. On the other end, Miami continued to lean on the quickness advantage it had identified in the power forward matchup between veteran Luol Deng and rookie 7-footer Frank Kaminsky, with the former All-Star showing poise and touch both inside and out en route to seven points on 3-for-4 shooting in the opening frame.
The big key for Miami, though, was Dragic, who had struggled offensively for much of the series before locking into a rhythm with 12 points in the second half of a must-win Game 6. He carried that confidence and aggression over into the first half, cooking counterpart Kemba Walker off the dribble as he fought his way to the basket time and again, whether shot out of a cannon off screens — including many from the Heat's wings, another adjustment that seemed to catch the Hornets by surprise — in the half-court or when showcasing his footwork and panache when unleashed in the open floor:
"I just got more room to operate," Dragic told Burke on the court after the game. "I felt more comfortable. Our players, they trust me. Even when I miss a shot, they keep supporting me, and I got my rhythm."
"Man, that's the Goran Dragic we all love," Wade said. "He just puts so much pressure on the defense, and it allows other guys to just chill out [...] We want Goran to understand that when he's paying that special for us, we're a tough, tough team to beat."
Behind 17 first-half points from Dragic on 7-for-12 shooting, relentless attacking that led to a 32-14 edge in points in the paint, and a defensive effort that held Charlotte to 42.5 percent shooting, Miami carried a 54-42 lead into halftime. The deficit would've been even more dire if not for strong starts by Game 5 hero Courtney Lee (11 points, 5-for-5 shooting) and hobbled new father Nicolas Batum (eight points, five rebounds, two assists off the bench).
Coming out of intermission, the Hornets needed to get Walker going offensively, to find a way to slow Dragic, and to dislodge Whiteside enough to be able to penetrate the paint and generate good looks. They accomplished precisely none of those goals.
Charlotte opened the third quarter playing smaller, with Batum taking Kaminsky's place in the starting lineup; Miami promptly got the ball right back to the front of the rim, with Whiteside finishing two dunks in just over a minute:
The Hornets' downshifted, more shooting-heavy lineup couldn't meaningfully shift Miami's defense, as the Heat's guards continued to press up on Walker and the rest of Charlotte's perimeter players, dissuading drives and making sure any Hornet foray toward the paint ended by meeting with Whiteside, whose presence had Charlotte so shaken as to scarcely even look toward the basket with him in the neighborhood, and whose shot-blocking justified that choice when a Hornet actually did get inside:
The Heat opened up the third on an 11-2 run, holding the Hornets scoreless for nearly four minutes to push their lead to 21. The game had escaped Charlotte's grasp — every Hornets possession felt rushed and unsure, every missed shot increased the volume of the crowd and got the Heat out in transition, and nearly every Miami trip seemed to end right at the front of the rim:
The Hornets were in quicksand, every move plunging them deeper and deeper, and extending the Heat lead. Miami kept pouring it on, fueled by Dragic's continued persistence in pushing the pace, supplementary shotmaking from Deng, Wade and Joe Johnson, and a suffocating defensive effort at both the point of attack and the rim. Just past the midpoint of the third, Miami led by 28; by the end of a 29-11 third quarter, the advantage was 30, and all that was left to determine was the final margin.
Deng capped a strong series with 15 points on 6-for-9 shooting, eight rebounds and four assists. Whiteside posted his fifth double-double of Round 1, with 10 points and 12 rebounds. Wade chipped in 12 points and six boards, and reserve Gerald Green added 16 points on 7-for-16 shooting off the Heat bench.
Walker, who finished second in Most Improved Player voting after a breakout year as the engine of the Hornets' offensive improvement, had a nightmarish close to the season on both ends, finishing with just nine points on 3-for-16 shooting, six assists and three turnovers in 36 minutes:
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) May 1, 2016
Kaminsky led the way with 12 points on 3-for-15 shooting for the Hornets, who shot just 32.1 percent from the field and managed only 31 points after halftime.
Charlotte heads home after a successful regular season capped by a horrendously disappointing ending. The Heat move on to Round 2 to face the winner of Sunday's other Game 7, between the second-seeded Toronto Raptors and the seventh-seeded Indiana Pacers.
"I'm proud of this team, and I knew tonight would be a great moment for these guys," Wade said after the game. "I felt that we was going to win this game. I knew that our energy and our crowd was going to be enough, and we was going to be prepared, and I was just thinking about how these guys were going to feel after playing a Game 7."
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