Goran Dragic bounced back from a rough outing in Game 6 and led the Miami HEAT to a series-clinching win over the Charlotte Hornets on Sunday to advance to the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
Dragic finished with 25 points (on 11-of-17 shooting from the field), six rebounds and four assists in the HEAT’s 106-73 win over the Hornets. Miami led from start to finish on Sunday and was in complete control behind a balanced scoring attack, leading by as many as 38 points in the fourth quarter.
All five HEAT starters finished with at least nine points as Luol Deng scored 15 points, Dwyane Wade scored 12 points and Hassan Whiteside added 10 points, 12 rebounds and five blocks. Although he only finished with 10 points, Whiteside might have been the HEAT’s most important player on Sunday.
Whiteside came out with a lot of energy on the offensive end, and helped the HEAT set the tone early in the first quarter. He overpowered the Hornets as he pulled down five rebounds (three offensive) in the opening quarter. He controlled the paint and altered shots throughout the game. He also set a HEAT franchise record for 24 blocks in the series.
The HEAT outrebounded the Hornets 17-7 in the first quarter and had six offensive rebounds as a team. Rebounding has been a huge issue for the Hornets throughout this series. The HEAT held a +72 rebounding advantage during the series, and outrebounded the Hornets in all but one game.
While the HEAT had their way offensively, the Hornets struggled shooting the ball. The Hornets shot just 32 percent from the field, including going just 7-of-21 from three-point range. After torching the HEAT for 37 points in Game 6, Kemba Walker finished with just nine points on 3-of-16 shooting.
The Hornets were able to find ways to make this series competitive after dropping the first two games in Miami. Many projected the HEAT to wrap up the series in six games or less, but the Hornets came up big throughout the series. In the end, the HEAT proved to be the more experienced team with big plays from their veterans.
Charlotte now turns to the offseason where they figure to have a very busy summer with several key players becoming free agents. Al Jefferson, Nicolas Batum, Marvin Williams, Courtney Lee and Tyler Hansbrough will all become unrestricted free agents, while Jeremy Lin will likely test the free agent market as well by declining his upcoming player option. The Hornets could have as much as $42 million in cap space.
Miami will now advance to the Eastern Conference Semifinals for the first time in two seasons as they improve to 6-3 all-time in Game 7’s. They will face the winner of the Raptors-Pacers series and will hold home-court advantage if the Pacers advance.
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