The Miami Heat are second round-bound. They blew out the Charlotte Hornets in Game 7 behind a fantastic third-quarter performance that allowed them to cruise to a 106-73 win. Goran Dragic had 25 points while Hassan Whiteside led the way on defense with five blocks. Miami will now face the winner of the Toronto Raptors vs Indiana Pacers series.
The Heat were clearly the best team on both ends from the opening tip in Game 7. They played with more energy and a sense of urgency that the Hornets simply couldn't match. Miami beat the Hornets to loose balls consistently and pounded them on the offensive boards. Charlotte was the best defensive rebounding team in the league in the regular season but could not keep Whiteside from getting to misses first.
The Heat not only dominated the glass but also scored 58 points in the paint, while the Hornets could only get 22. Al Jefferson, who had enjoyed success taking Whiteside in the post in past games, struggled greatly and there was no one else who could pick up the slack. Miami simply had a huge edge inside on both ends in this one, largely thanks to its center.
The biggest reason why the Heat ran the Hornets out of the building, however, was the play of Dragic.
The battle of the point guards had gone Kemba Walker's way for most of the series but Dragic saved the best for last. Dragic made bucket after bucket and controlled the pace while Walker couldn't buy a field goal. After scoring 17 first-half points, Dragic continued to be in attack mode. He led the way on offense with eight points in the third quarter and Whiteside did the same of defense with four blocked shots.
When the dust had settled after a big Heat run, they were up 30 points going into the final period. The fourth quarter was essentially garbage time.
In the last two games of the series Miami showed just how many weapons it has. After Dwyane Wade and Luol Deng carried them in Game 6, it was Dragic and Whiteside's turn in Game 7. Whoever faces them in the second round with have their hands full.
3 other things we learned from Miami's convincing Game 7 win
Goran Dragic showed up when he was most needed
After averaging just 12 points on 37 percent shooting for the series, Dragic came alive in Game 7, finishing with 25 points on 17 shots to go with six rebounds and four assists. He was as aggressive as he's been since joining the Heat, pushing the ball every time he got. It was a really great game for a great player who sometimes tends to disappear.
The Heat will need Dragic to continue to play like this to have a shot in the second round, no matter the opponent. When he's assertive, he can change the game by creating transition opportunities for himself and others. Miami needs those to complement its half-court attack.
Hassan Whiteside has become a dominant force
The critics could always point to thedefense doing better with Whiteside sitting, or opponents' offensive rebounds climbing when he was on the court because of his block-chasing ways. Not anymore. In the whole series against the Hornets but especially in Game 7, he proved that he's come a long way in a short amount of time and is now a dominant force.
In the decisive game, Whiteside had 12 rebounds and five blocks, but he also altered many other shots. The threat he presented as both a dive man off pick-and-rolls and an offensive rebounder caused the Hornets to over-help, which opened up room for his teammates. Whiteside is far from perfect, but he's definitely one of the best centers in the league right now.
This might be it for this version of the Hornets
This season has to be considered an unqualified success for the Hornets. They set out to make the playoffs and did so. Once there, they played a quality opponent close and were on the brink of advancing to the second round in Game 6. From fans to ownership, everyone associated with the franchise has to be happy of the year they had.
The question now is, will this core stay together? Jefferson, Nicolas Batum, Courtney Lee, Marvin Williams and Jeremy Lin could all become free agents. Re-sign them, and the team's ceiling might be capped at 45-50 wins and a second-round exit. Let them go and risk falling back to the basement of the East.
It will be an interesting summer for general manager Rich Cho.