The Charlotte Hornets had hardly been competitive in South Florida against the white-hot Miami Heat in the first two games of their opening series in the Eastern Conference playoffs. Back in their familiar hive, though, the Hornets stung back, using a third-quarter run to key a 96-80 rout.
Frank Kaminsky (15 points, six rebounds) and Jeremy Lin (18 points, four assists) were the unlikely heroes on Saturday, with Kaminsky pouring in 13 points in a pivotal 22-5 run to close the third quarter that staked Charlotte to a 17-point lead entering the fourth.
Miami had trailed at halftime, and had done well to tie the game in the third, but the Heat had nothing left to make a run at the Hornets in the fourth on a cold night. After averaging 119 points and shooting 57.8 percent from the field at home, the Heat fell almost 40 points shy of that average and made just 34.2 percent of their buckets in Charlotte.
The win is the Hornets' first in the playoffs since 2002, and snapped a 12-game playoff losing streak that would have tied the NBA's longest with another defeat. Now, they'll be able to tie this series in Monday's Game 4.
1. Regression to the mean helped the Hornets
After Miami's second immolation of his team in the Sunshine State, Hornets coach Steve Clifford gave a remarkable press conference in which he more or less said "They're hot, and they'll cool off." That the Heat did on Saturday, struggling to put the ball in the basket up and down the roster.
But Miami cooling off was only part of the rubber-banding at play on Saturday. The Hornets played better, too, following a 1-for-16 night from deep in Game 2 with a much more respectable 5-for-18 performance and playing a significant role in the Heat's offensive struggles by challenging shots and pressuring the ball.
2. Rookies are inconsistent
With Nicolas Batum out of the lineup in Game 3, Clifford was forced to play the inconsistent Kaminsky for significant minutes. He was minimally important until the third quarter, when he exploded to stake Charlotte to a lead it wouldn't relinquish. That's promising for a team that really needs a third scoring option beyond Kemba Walker and Marvin Williams.
Meanwhile, Miami's more ballyhooed rookies, Justise Winslow and Josh Richardson, played the worst playoff games of their young careers. They combined to score just six points on 12 shots, and were a combined -50 on the night.
3. Ball security matters
The Hornets took a turnover on an intentional shot-clock violation late in the fourth quarter, their fourth of the night. That might seem unimportant, but it meant the Hornets came one turnover shy of tying the NBA record for fewest turnovers in a playoff game. And that ability to hold on to the ball meant that Charlotte could shoot just under 39 percent from the floor and still stay well ahead of the Heat late by not giving up transition opportunities.