A Hornets fan wearing a long-sleeve purple shirt, a white bandana and a neon-green book bag spent most of the fourth quarter of Game 6 on Friday night at Time Warner Cable Arena telling Dwyane Wade he should retire.
Josh Richardson is so glad he did.
“Sometimes, it’s better not to wake up a sleeping giant,” the Heat rookie quipped. “Let’s blame the purple shirt guy.”
Whether it was his way of shutting up the purple shirt guy or just putting his team on his back once again, Wade, 34, turned in a vintage fourth-quarter performance, leading the Heat to a 97-90 victory, evening the series at 3 games each and setting up Game 7 on Sunday afternoon at AmericanAirlines Arena.
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Wade scored 10 of his 23 points in the fourth quarter and made his first two three-pointers of the calendar year to outduel Kemba Walker, who poured in 37 points for the Hornets in their first home loss since March 19.
Miami, which had lost three games in a row in the series, will now host the Hornets on Sunday at 1 p.m. in Game 7. The Heat has won three consecutive Game 7s at home.
“At this point of my career I play for these moments,” Wade said. “Tonight was one of those moments; I wasn’t going to get back on that bus and wish I could have [made that extra effort].”
Walker and Wade traded big basket after big basket down the stretch.
After Walker trimmed what was a 90-81 lead with 3:06 remaining to 90-88 with 1:40 to play on a reverse layup, Wade answered him with his second three-pointer of the night with 46 seconds remaining to make it 93-88.
Wade then shouted at the heckler and made teammate Hassan Whiteside happy when he used the center’s big-moment celebration by pointing to his veins.
But the battle wasn’t over.
After Charlotte called a timeout, Walker drove down the lane moments later and fed Al Jefferson, who finished with 18 points, for a layup to keep it a one-possession game with under 40 seconds to play. That’s when Wade finally delivered the knockout blow, sinking an 18-foot fade-away jumper with Courtney Lee draped all over him with 19.5 seconds left.
“I’ve been watching D-Wade since high school,” Whiteside said. “To see him in an elimination game was amazing.”
The Heat, which averaged 23 fouls per game through the first four games of the series, once again battled foul trouble Friday. They were whistled for 24 fouls — seven more than the Hornets. And Charlotte took advantage, finishing 21 of 25 from the free-throw line.
Still, it felt like the Hornets did most of the complaining. Jeremy Lin was called for charges twice in the final period — first when Udonis Haslem stood there and took a knee to his groin from Lin on a drive with 10:06 to play and then when Luol Deng ran back on a Hornets fastbreak with 7:45 to play and took the charge. Deng then drew another charge on Jefferson with 2:12 left.
Whiteside, who has been playing with a bruised right thigh since the end of Game 3 and said he was hit on the thigh again toward the end of Game 5, had 12 points, seven rebounds and four blocks and fouled out with 2:54 to play. Haslem played 15 huge minutes off the bench for Miami filling in for Whiteside.
“What we really did different tonight was every time they made a run we answered,” said Deng, who finished with 21 points. “We won a lot of 50-50s. That’s what you do when games are so close. That’s how you win the game.”
The Heat led by as many as 13 points in the first half and took a 59-50 lead into the break in large part because Wade and Deng couldn’t miss in the first half. They combined to go 13 of 19 from the field for 29 points as the Heat shot 60 percent from the field as a team. Miami also scored 30 points in the paint — as many as it did in all of Game 4.
But the Hornets shut it down in the second half, holding Miami to just eight points in the paint over the final two quarters.
In the end, it took a special shooting performance from Wade to finish the Hornets off.
“The best thing about [Game 7] is we’re at home,” Deng said. “We gave ourselves another chance to fight. We have to come out with a lot of energy. It’s going to be a great game. I’m glad we’re home.”
▪ Richardson, who injured his left shoulder late in the game trying to fight through a Cody Zeller screen on defense, said afterward he was going to play in Game 7.
“They haven’t said anything yet,” Richardson said of the Heat’s trainers. “Hopefully, it’s something minor.”