A tough night for the Charlotte Hornets got worse early in the fourth quarter, when forward Nicolas Batum limped off the court with a sprained left ankle after colliding with Heat forward Justise Winslow. Batum did not return to the Hornets’ 115-103 Game 2 loss to the Heat and left the arena on crutches and in a walking boot.
“We are very concerned,” Hornets coach Steve Clifford said when asked about Batum’s health. “We will not know anything about it until (Thursday).”
“Me personally, I don’t think he will be able to come back,” teammate Al Jefferson said of Batum after the game. “Looking at his ankle now, it’s pretty bad…guys will have to be ready to play and fill in some big shoes.”
Batum injured the same ankle in Boston during the Hornets’ second-to-last regular season game. Batum got tangled up with Boston’s Amir Johnson early in the third quarter. He did not return to that game and also missed the Hornets’ regular-season finale against Orlando, but Batum said he was “feeling good” before game one against the Heat.
“I worked before and after practice to get my rhythm back and I was feeling fine,” Batum said. “It’s not the best thing to twist an ankle a couple of days before a playoff series, but it is what it is.”
“It was unfortunate,” Heat coach Eric Spoelstra said of Batum’s injury. “Even as competitors, you want everybody out there.”
After allowing 123 points in Game 1, Jefferson said the Hornets had to “be more mentally prepared” in Game 2.
The big man heeded his own advice, scoring 25 points, 16 of which came in the second quarter.
“It’s nothing new for me,” Hornets guard Kemba Walker said of Jefferson’s performance. “I know how good the big fella is…he has to continue to play that way for us to have a chance.”
Jefferson’s 16 second-quarter points were the second-most ever scored against the Heat in a post-season second period, trailing only 17-point periods from Anfernee Hardaway in 1997 and Michael Jordan in 1992.
After eight-for-ten shooting in the second quarter, Jefferson took only six shots in the second half.
“If something is working, you got to let I keep going until they stop it,” Jefferson said after the game. “I feel like we just kind of got off-base on that.”
While Jefferson got in a rhythm down low, the Hornets struggled from long distance, making only 1 of 16 three-pointers.
Charlotte averaged 29 three-point attempts per game during the regular season, fourth-most in the NBA, and ranked 7th in the league in three-point percentage.
“They’re extending out and funneling everything to the basket,” Clifford said of the Heat’s defense against his team’s three-point attack. “Our guys are doing a good job taking what they’re giving us.”
Walker was especially effective, matching his playoff career-high with 29 points.
“They got in a good rhythm,” Spoelstra said of Charlotte’s pick-and-roll offense. “Especially with Walker…he was super-aggressive.”
In a role reversal of sorts, the Heat thrived from downtown as Charlotte struggled.
Miami finished the season shooting 34% from three-point range, which ranked 27th out of 30 NBA teams. Wednesday, the Heat made nine of 16 three-pointers.
“You can’t take away everything,” Clifford said of the Heat’s hot outside shooting.
“Tonight, they made a lot of shots that you could live with.”
The Hornets head home down two games to none and having lost their last 12 post-season games, but Clifford remains optimistic.
“Our offense has been more than good enough to win,” Clifford said. “We’ve got to find a way to be able to put together 48 good minutes of defense. If we can do that, we’ll give ourselves a chance to win.”