CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Jeremy Lin was exhausted. After 23 minutes of jamming the ball deep into the Miami Heat paint, the Charlotte Hornets reserve guard who had averaged just over 26 minutes a game in the regular season was starting to feel the effects of professional leviathan Hassan Whiteside and the unleashing of the Heat’s dogged rookie defenders.
“I was so tired from the previous three quarters,” Lin said.
So with Udonis Haslem switched onto him at the top of the arc, Lin dribbled to his right, surveyed the situation and pulled up for the 3-pointer as the Heat veteran scrambled to contest. The ball thudded off the backboard and in.
As Lin trotted back the other way, he shrugged his shoulders slightly in reserved disbelief. A “Jordan Shrug,” one might say, just feet away from the man himself.
“I didn’t think about that until after the game when they said that,” Lin said after the Hornets' thrilling 89-85 victory tied the first-round series at 2-2. “Me and Kemba were talking about it. That was kind of ‘Angels in the Outfield’; it was a blessing from God. That shot, when I let it go, there was no chance it would go in. And it went in. So thank God.”
The triple brought Lin to 20 points, almost all of which he earned at the rim as the Hornets again drove the ball aggressively and often with Miami shutting off the 3-point shooters that had been the lifeblood of the Hornets' regular-season offensive turnaround.
As the fourth quarter wore on and the on-ball pressure from the Heat extended and increased, Lin had a message for Kemba Walker, his backcourt partner.
“I told him, ‘Take us home,’” Lin said. “They pressured us full court, and we had to chase their guards around. Sometimes when I come off the bench, I play 18 straight minutes. I told him, ‘Man, it’s on you.’ Basically."
Walker, never one to shy away from a big moment, was happy to oblige.
“That’s what I’m known for,” he said. “I’m known for making big plays down the stretch. Tonight was another example.”
Up one with 6:07 to play, Walker used his elite quickness to break away from the Heat’s pressing defenders and score the Hornets’ next 11 points with an array of floaters and patented sharp step-back jumpers.
“Time and time again in these situations, my team, coaching staff, everybody tells me it’s time to win.” Walker said. “Coach put me in position to make plays. I just want to be as aggressive as possible. I was able to get my shot off, and I just wanted to be confident. The way I’m confident is [through] my teammates. They’re the ones who are like, ‘Aight, Kemba, let’s go.’ It’s time to win.”
Walker finished with 34 points on 13-for-28 shooting, setting a new personal career high in the playoffs.
“What can you say?” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “He’s a brilliant, dynamic, pick-and-roll player. They probably had 40 pick-and-rolls, and it wasn’t just him, either; it was Lin, and both of them are very aggressive. They put you on your heels, back you up; they’re ultra-aggressive in making plays on pullups or to the rim or drawing fouls.
"We’ve probably fouled more in these four games than we have in the last four weeks, but you have to credit them. They’re aggressive and they make you have to defend with position.”
Lin finished with 21 points on 6-for-10 shooting, marking the first time since 2002 that two Charlotte guards scored 20 points or more in the same playoff game.
“It’s awesome, because I just sit there and watch and catch my breath,” Lin said about Walker’s late performance. “Honestly, when he hits those three, four straight possessions, I was just chilling in the corner the whole time.”
Walker's last attempt, though, lacked the same magic.
Clinging to a two-point lead with 5.8 seconds to play, Walker stumbled to recover his dribble and hoisted up a shot from 28 feet out to just beat the shot clock. It clanked off the backboard, but Courtney Lee, who had come up with an offensive rebound on his own miss the possession before, leaped in the air in almost the exact same spot and pulled down the decisive board in between three Heat defenders.
It was a catch Danny Glover would love.
Lee sank the two free throws to finish off the victory.
“They changed their coverage,” Hornets coach Steve Clifford said. “We hadn’t run that, and I thought that would work late. It was really like a two-on-two play. Usually, Whiteside hangs back, but he jumped up and blitzed it more, so there was no room there to turn the corner. We were fortunate, we were fortunate that he got that rebound.”
Walker, however, doesn’t seem like the type to believe in luck.
“I actually thought it was going in,” he said.