CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Don’t be fooled by the disarming European accent, easy smile and friendly personality. Between those lines on the court, Goran Dragic is a relentless bulldog.
Beneath the surface, the Miami Heat veteran point guard is an irritable dude these days. Dragic has committed only two turnovers through Miami’s first three playoff games but has struggled with his offense and has shot just 36.4 percent from the field.
Dragic’s early foul trouble while struggling to keep up with Kemba Walker rendered him a defensive liability in Miami's 96-80 loss in Game 3 of their first-round series against Charlotte. But as the Heat enter a pivotal Game 4 Monday, Dragic vows to steer them clear of the matchup problems and mistakes that doomed his team Saturday. He won’t back down from Walker, either.
A Heat victory gives them a 3-1 series lead and pushes the Hornets to the brink of elimination heading into Game 5 on Wednesday in Miami, but a Hornets’ win Monday evens the series. Dragic embraces the stakes, and discussed his mindset in Sunday’s Q&A as the Heat look to regroup in Game 4.
Question: What went wrong during Charlotte’s 18-0 run in the third quarter that broke open Game 3?
Dragic: Nothing. We had a lot of open shots that we didn’t make. We’re a really good team, but close to the basket, we were shooting 7-for-22 or something like that. We just had an off shooting night. But we need to do a better job on defense and try to get into the open court.
Q: Did you guys get away from the game plan on offense at that point?
Dragic: Sometimes there was just too much one-on-one. I don’t know why. But I feel like, at that stretch, we had a lot of contested shots and we didn’t make those. And they ran on us and made some easy 3-pointers and layups. We just need to be more focused to get to the right spots and execute our offense.
Q: What do you want to see in Game 4 to avoid those lapses from Saturday’s loss?
Dragic: Recognize the time of the game when we can go faster and can score immediately, or when we can pass four or five times and work for a better shot -- not to be satisfied with maybe a 60 percent good look, but to get an even better look. And the defense needs to be focused. We had a lot of breakdowns, those tendencies we watch on the tapes what they’re doing. But we gave them everything.
Q: How do you adjust to the officiating and avoid the foul trouble that plagued you the last game?
Dragic: I’ll just try to be solid. The first foul [in Game 3] was very tough. Kemba was coming full speed. That second one was -- I don’t know. I was inside and he jumped into me. The third one was all on me. I shouldn’t have reached in. But I just need to try to be more focused, and not to get those cheap fouls. I need to try to stay solid.
Q: So do you adjust to Walker’s speed by giving him space to stay in front of him?
Dragic: Well, no. If you give him space, he’s [a good shooter]. You just need to play team defense. You know, try to be in front of him and between him and the basket. But he has so many screens their setting, so you need to fight through those. Nobody said it’s going to be easy. It’s the playoffs. You need to defend and play offense, too. It’s really a two-way game.
Q: How important is it for you to attack Walker and their guards to make them play both ends?
Dragic: Like I said, it goes both ways. You want to put pressure on him on offense so he’s guarding you. And at the same time you want to play good defense, and pressure him. It goes both ways. Sometimes, you have a good night and sometimes you have a bad night. But there are differences in coverages and how we play those and defend all five guys. And we’re at our best when we play like that.
Q: You were taken off of Walker in Game 3. To be clear, you want the challenge of defending him, right?
Dragic: I mean, yeah. I’ve been guarding Kemba from the first minute. Last [game], I got three fouls early, and Coach said we’re going to try something different. We’re going to put Luol [Deng] on Kemba, and I was guarding Courtney Lee. I was just trying to be solid. Like you said, not try to make those silly fouls.
Q: Was that adjustment tough for you to take as a competitor?
Dragic: I wouldn’t say it’s tough, because I’m not only looking at Kemba and how he’s playing. I’m also looking at Jeremy Lin and Courtney Lee. You never know, or a Marvin Williams. You never know if you’re going to switch on those guys. It’s easier to guard Courtney than Kemba, for sure, for me, personally.
Q: You and Walker got into a skirmish and had to be separated. Something similar happened with you in Boston at the end of the regular season. Are guys testing your toughness more at this point?
Dragic: If I’m honest, I don’t care what the other people think about me -- if they think I’m soft or if they think I’m tough. The only thing that matters to me is what my teammates are thinking about me, and my coaches and my family. I know that I’m not going to back off. But that with Kemba? That was nothing. I didn’t even understand what he was saying. I just turned around and said, ‘What are you saying?’ And then, we were just close. It was nothing.
Q: Still, though, does that easy smile off the court transform into edginess when on the court?
Dragic: That’s good, because when I’m playing basketball, I put myself out of my box. I’m not that nice guy like outside. I’m a completely different guy on the court. That’s what drives me. It’s nice to be a different guy for those -- how long the game is, two hours or three hours. I’ve been in the league eight years. Some players know. The only thing I can do is play hard, not be soft and give everything I’ve got.