Courtney Lee did it again. From virtually the same spot on the floor and for the second game in a row, Lee grabbed a crucial long rebound off the offensive boards.
This time, Lee went back up and drained a 3-pointer with 28.9 seconds left, leading the Charlotte Hornets to a 90-88 victory over the Miami Heat on Wednesday at AmericanAirlines Arena.
Lee also had a key block on Heat guard Dwyane Wade with 2.6 seconds left. But Lee’s heroics started with his rebound.
“I guess his anticipation,” Hornets coach Steve Clifford said when asked how the 6-5 Lee grabbed the biggest boards two games in a row. “He’s a terrific athlete, and he has good timing.”
Thanks in large measure to Lee, the Hornets, who have won three straight games, have a 3-2 lead over Miami in their first-round Eastern Conference playoff series.
Charlotte can end the best-of-seven series with a win at home on Friday.
Miami, who have won 21 of their past 28 playoff series, still have a shot but the Heat will likely have to play better in the clutch to advance.
The Heat led 88-87 in Wednesday’s final minute. Hornets guard Kemba Walker missed a jumper, and that is when Lee swooped in. He not only grabbed the rebound, he also made the shot even though he was only 1-of-8 from the floor at the time.
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said he noticed Lee was in “the deep corner” of the court when the key sequence began.
“(Wade) went to block out (Hornets centre Cody Zeller),” Spoelstra said. “It was a long rebound, and those end up being pursuits. … It was a tough bounce, a long bounce. Then it becomes a scramble. And we didn’t scramble.”
Perhaps it should come as no surprise that Lee made Charlotte’s big play. After all, Lee is the only Hornets player with NBA Finals experience, having played for the 2009 Orlando Magic.
After Lee’s 3-pointer, Wade, who had a game-high 25 points, had a chance to tie the score when he drove the left baseline, drawing Zeller in front and Lee trailing. Lee got the block, but the Heat thought Wade was hacked.
“I thought I did,” Wade said when asked if he got fouled. “But it wasn’t called. It’s pointless now. There’s no reason for me to look at it.”
Spoelstra said he does not need replay, either.
“I don’t need to,” Spoelstra said about any video. “He got fouled.”
There were seven lead changes in the game. Charlotte had a 14-0 run in the first quarter and a 15-3 surge in the second but still led just 49-47 at halftime.
Miami surged to a 71-65 lead after three quarters. The Heat held Charlotte to 26.1-percent shooting in the quarter, outscoring the Hornets 24-16.
Overall, the Heat won most of the hustle categories. They were plus-nine on rebounds, plus-seven on second-chance points, plus-nine on fast-break points and plus-14 on paint points.
But here’s where the Hornets prevailed: They made 12-of-24 on 3-pointers compared to 5-of-18 for Miami.
The Hornets survived on a night in which Walker, who had been averaging 25 points in the series, was held to 14 on 4-of-18 shooting.
Walker, though, was understandably upbeat as his team prevailed.
“We want to go home and win,” he said. “That’s our mindset right now.”
Wednesday’s game was the first time in the series that the home team lost.
“It hurts losing at home,” Spoelstra said. “But welcome to the playoffs. The playoffs just started. When a team beats somebody on the road, OK, now it gets real. As raw as this feels, we have 48 hours to regroup and get ready for a heck of a battle.”