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Dwyane Wade rested comfortably on the bench with a wry smile across his face as the Heat closed out their first-round series with a decisive Game 7 victory against the Hornets.
Forced to put on a one-man show in Game 6 to keep Miami’s playoff hopes alive, Wade was able to take it all in from the sidelines on this sleepy Sunday. He had to enjoy the view. Miami looked its absolute best in the most critical moment of the season, blasting the Hornets, 106-73, to advance to the Eastern Conference semifinals.
While their place in this postseason appeared tenuous in the past, the Heat showed exactly what will make them dangerous going forward. They have veterans, they have length, and they have know-how. Each attribute was on display Sunday, as this Miami roster put together one of its most complete performances to date.
That they dismantled Charlotte so completely was jarring in the moment, but made sense when placed in context. Miami excelled in every category needed to dominate a tough Hornets team that built its season on defense and rebounding and relied on Kemba Walker’s brilliance.
The Hornets were the No. 1 defensive rebounding team in the NBA in the regular season, yet they allowed Miami to collect 10 offensive rebounds. Charlotte’s top 10 defense allowed Miami to go on a 30–4 run at one point. And Walker, who had dominated his matchup with Goran Dragic, scored only nine points on 3–of–16 shooting.
Charlotte doesn’t have a roster of stars at its beck and call, but they do have hard workers. They count on their ability to win 50–50 plays and outwork opponents. They never did that against the Heat on Sunday. And the stars that they do have, Walker and Al Jefferson, struggled thoroughly. Jefferson only attempted seven shots, and he and Walker combined to make five of 23 attempts.
That wasn’t entirely on them. Miami deserves credit for using its length on defense and imposing its will. Charlotte depends on screen-and-roll sets to get looks for Walker and Jefferson, but Miami made it tough for either player to get much going. Walker was crowded with the ball in his hands and multiple defenders met Jefferson in the paint.
None was more effective than Hassan Whiteside. He dominated the glass and turned his defense into offense for Miami. His 10 points and 12 rebounds were far more valuable that they appear on the surface.
Dragic’s 25 points, six rebounds and four assists, however, were every bit as important as they appeared. Over the course of the series, he averaged 12.3 points and shot only 37% while Walker topped 30 points multiple times and nearly won Game 6 by himself. It was no surprise that Dragic finally found success when he put his head down, drove hard to the basket and made the Hornets pay for defending him with the smaller Walker. He also found his stroke from outside and became another threat from deep for a team that doesn't have many.
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After the game, Dragic said he finally found his rhythm. The same could be said of Miami as a team. The Heat appeared primed for a sweep after getting out to a 2–0 start, but regressed in the games that followed and nearly gave up the series.
But Miami found itself at the right moment, and will continue to find success if it can duplicate Sunday’s showing going forward. And Wade, who was emotional before the start of Game 7, just might have another reason to flash that smile.