Goran Dragic stars as Miami Heat pound Charlotte Hornets to win series

By Walter Villa, The Sports Xchange  |  May 2, 2016 at 12:35 AM
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MIAMI -- Charlotte Hornets point guard Kemba Walker has built a reputation as a big-game player, stretching back to his college days as a national champion and Final Four MVP at Connecticut.

That continued in the first six games of Charlotte's first-round playoff series against the Miami Heat as Walker averaged 25.0 points.

But on Sunday, in Game 7, it was the other team's point guard, Goran Dragic, who had the huge game.

Dragic had a game-high 25 points as Miami advanced to the Eastern Conference semifinals, routing Charlotte 106-73 at AmericanAirlines Arena.

"The paint was more open, and I could attack," Dragic said. "(The Hornets) didn't rotate so quickly. I had more room to operate, and it was a little bit easier than it was earlier."

Miami, which never trailed, also got 16 points from Gerald Green, 15 points from Luol Deng, 12 points from Dwyane Wade and 10 points, 12 rebounds and five blocks from Hassan Whiteside.

"I'm not a prophet," Wade said, "but I knew we were winning this game."

The Heat will play the Totonto Raptors in the second round. Game 1 is Tuesday in Toronto.

In franchise history, Miami is 6-3 in Game 7s. Before Sunday, the Heat's most recent Game 7 came in 2013, when they beat the San Antonio Spurs for the NBA championship.

Charlotte, which just a few days ago had a 3-2 series lead, failed to close out the Heat. Hornets guard Kemba Walker, who had 37 points against Miami on Friday, was held to nine points on 3-for-16 shooting. He also had a game-high three turnovers.

Dragic and Heat coach Erik Spoelstra praised Walker despite his poor final game.

"Kemba is an unbelievable player," Dragic said. "It's tough to stay in front of him. We knew he was going to be aggressive, maybe try to catch us being tired. We did an amazing job of team defense."

Spoelstra said it was a "travesty" that Walker was not named an All-Star this season.

"There isn't anything Kemba can't do," Spoelstra said. "He puts so much pressure on you. But Goran didn't get discouraged. He found his opportunities to be aggressive once their defense started to weaken.

"Dwyane's usage was high in the last game. Goran had to be a big factor for us tonight."

Besides winning the point guard battle, the other big advantage for Miami came on the boards. The Heat had a 58-36 edge on rebounds. That helped Miami hold a 58-22 advantage in paint points. Miami had an 18-5 edge on second-chance points.

In fact, Miami had the advantage from the start, taking a 29-18 lead after the first quarter. The Heat stretched their lead to 54-42 at halftime as Dragic had 17 points.

"We had a bad start because of the rebounding game," Hornets coach Steve Clifford said. "At halftime, I thought we were fine. But in the third quarter, things got away from us."

Indeed, Miami raced to a 20-4 start to the third and headed into the final period with an 83-53 lead.

The Hornets' season, which became doomed midway through the third quarter, was nailed shut in the fourth.

But Clifford and Hornets forward Nicolas Batum said they were proud of the team.

"We had a great season," Batum said of a Hornets team that had the best record in the Eastern Conference since Feb. 1. "We had a chance to win (on Friday) but D-Wade was amazing. All we can do is learn from it."

Clifford said he realizes his team, which improved by 15 regular-season wins from the previous year, will ultimately be judged by playoff performances.

"That's fair," Clifford said of those bottom-line assessments. "But I'm still proud of our guys. This wasn't (a) 4-0 (sweep). To go down 2-0 and win the next three games shows what we have in our locker-room."

NOTES: Hornets F Nicolas Batum (left foot) was hobbled but scored 10 points in 29 minutes. Hornets F Marvin Williams (elbow) scored five points in 33 minutes. Charlotte coach Steve Clifford said neither player was 100 percent. ... Heat G Josh Richardson (left shoulder) scored three points in 19 minutes. ... Heat G Tyler Johnson, who hadn't played since January due to shoulder surgery, scored five points. ... The Hornets are the only team to beat the Heat in Miami since March 1, doing so twice. ... The Hornets fan with court-side seats for Game 6 in Charlotte -- identified by ESPN broadcasters as "purple-shirt Guy" -- is actually Michael Deason, 43, and he got a lot of notoriety on Twitter for his heckling of Heat G Dwyane Wade. In published reports, Deason said he told Wade he should retire. That was just before Wade hit his first two 3-pointers of the calendar year to help Miami win.

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