Entering Sunday, the Miami Heat had won five Games 7s in franchise history, while the Charlotte Hornets had been to just two Game 7s. The experience gap showed from the opening tip, as the Heat beat the Hornets 106-73, their biggest Game 7 playoff victory in franchise history and the fifth biggest by any team in a Game 7 in NBA playoff history.
The Heat dominated the paint early, taking a 16-6 advantage there after the first quarter, and that morphed into an 58-22 advantage by the end of the game. In the first six games of the series, the Hornets were plus-20 in the paint before being minus-36 in Game 7.
Offensive difference-maker: Goran Dragic
Miami's big success came from its point guard, Goran Dragic, who averaged 12.3 points per game in the first six games of the series but posted 25 points in Game 7, including 18 in the paint. The Hornets finished with 22 points in the paint on 28.9 percent shooting as a team, tied for their worst in a game this season. Through the first six games, Dragic hadn't scored more than eight in the paint in an entire game, but he had that total in the first half Sunday.
By halftime the Heat nursed a 12-point lead with history on their side. Over the past 20 years, teams up 10 or more at the half in a Game 7 were 20-0 (now 21-0). No team had come back from a double-digit halftime deficit in a Game 7 since the 1995 Western Conference semifinals (when the Rockets beat the Suns).
Defensive difference-maker: Hassan Whiteside
Hassan Whiteside also played a big role, finishing with 10 points, 12 rebounds and five blocks. It was his 23rd game with at least five blocks, the most such games in the NBA this season. The next-closest player is Rudy Gobert, who has seven such games. Defensively, however, Whiteside truly left his mark. The Hornets were 2 of 8 on contested shots when he was the primary defender, and he limited a Hornets drive offense that averaged 29.3 points per game on drives in the first six games of the series. When Whiteside was on the floor, the Hornets shot 4-of-18 (22.2 percent) and scored eight points off their drives to the basket.
The Hornets' offensive struggles started with Kemba Walker, who, after averaging 25 points per game in the first six games was held to just nine points in Game 7. The Elias Sports Bureau notes that the only previous player in NBA history to score fewer points in a Game 7 after averaging at least 25 points per game entering Game 7 is Willis Reed, who famously played in Game 7 of the 1970 NBA Finals while injured.