Enter The Swarm.
That’s the message that greeted everyone inside Time Warner Cable Arena on Saturday. It was on the front of black T-shirts given to Hornets fans, the electronic scrolling ribbon inside the gym and on the large screens during pregame.
The Heat ran into that swarm midway through the third quarter Saturday and never recovered. Led by rookie Frank Kaminsky and a defense that just wouldn’t let the Heat score in the paint, Charlotte used an 18-0 run in the third quarter to turn a tight game into a laugher and its first playoff victory since 2002.
The Hornets got that done by a 96-80 margin.
“It looked like it was going to be a possession game,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “But then the next thing we look up and it’s a 14-point game before we get the next timeout. You have to give them credit — they came out with great energy during that spurt.
“I think all three games what it’s been has been a big burst of energy and momentum that either side has been able to separate. That’s what happened tonight.”
After lighting the scoreboard up in Games 1 and 2, the Heat’s offense went from swish, swish, swish to clank, clank, clank on Saturday. Outside of Luol Deng (19 points, five three-pointers), just about everyone in a Heat uniform struggled to put the ball in the basket.
Miami shot a season-low 34.2 percent from the field — the sixth-worst field-goal percentage in Heat playoff history — and scored only 28 points in the paint, a drastic drop-off from the first two games of the series when the Heat scored 46 and 56 points in the painted area, respectively.
Dwyane Wade scored just 17 points on 7-of-20 shooting, Joe Johnson missed 8 of his 11 shots from the field and scored seven points, and Goran Dragic had 11 points on 4-of-13 shooting. Rookies Justise Winslow and Josh Richardson, meanwhile, combined to go 2 of 12 from the field, including 0 for 7 from three-point range.
Hassan Whiteside, playing his first playoff game near his hometown of Gastonia, North Carolina, had 13 points (3 of 6 from the field), 18 rebounds and four blocks in 35 minutes. But he was just as frustrated as everyone else that the Heat finished 14 of 37 in the paint (37.8 percent).
“They packed the paint, and we missed some easy shots,” Whiteside said.
With Nicolas Batum (sprained left ankle) out, Hornets coach Steve Clifford debuted a new starting lineup with only three minutes of on-court time together all season prior to Saturday: 6-9, 237-pound Marvin Williams at small forward, the 7-foot, 242-pound Kaminsky at power forward and 6-10, 289-pound veteran Al Jefferson at center.
Clifford’s idea for going big: combat the Heat’s size on the perimeter and ability to feed the ball into the paint.
It obviously worked. Charlotte shot just 38.9 percent from the field but outscored Miami 52-28 in the paint.
“The Hornets are a great team at protecting the paint — they were third-best in the regular season,” Richardson said. “We knew coming in they were going to do that. I think we’ve just got to be more aware next game who they’re staying with, who they’re leaving, small stuff like that.
“You can’t shoot great every night. I know we’ve got another game in two days. Redemption is always there.”
“They were desperate, and that’s what a desperate team does,” Wade said. “It’s going to be a dogfight. There’s a reason why we had the same record throughout the year.”