Heat and Hornets in a fight for control of the paint

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — The Charlotte Hornets have been beating the Miami Heat at their own game in their first round series, which is tied at two games apiece with Game 5 on Wednesday (8 p.m. ET, TNT). After the Heat, a team that owned the paint after the All-Star break, destroyed the Hornets in the paint in Game 1, the Hornets have turned the tables.

Since Game 1, the Hornets have outscored the Heat, 146-104, in the paint. They’ve slowed down Miami’s attack and attacked more often themselves. The Heat won Game 2 comfortably with a 27-3 advantage from 3-point range, but their perimeter shooting came back down to earth in the two games in Charlotte.

The difference between the first two games and the last two games has been primarily on Miami’s end of the floor. The Heat scored a ridiculous 132 points per 100 possessions in their two wins and an anemic 88 points per 100 possessions in their two losses. They not only shot worse from the outside in Charlotte, they also shot 41 percent in the paint after shooting 67 percent in the paint at home.

But the Hornets’ offense has also evolved as the series has gone on. After recording just 24 drives off pick-and-rolls in Games 1 and 2, they recorded 37 in Games 3 and 4, according to SportVU.

Kemba Walker and Jeremy Lin drove a combined 13 times in Game 1. Since then, the pair have averaged a combined 27.3 drives per game. They rank second and fourth, respectively, in playoff drives per game and in the series, the Hornets have scored 1.23 points per possession on Lin or Walker drives.

The point guards have scored 86 of the 116 points on those drives themselves and only have 4 total assists (two apiece) on the 94 drives. Lin’s free throw rate (FTA/FGA) of 0.703 ranks fourth (trailing three centers) among 97 players who have attempted at least 25 shots from the field in the playoffs.

The Heat’s defense has cut off the Hornets’ ball movement a bit, and the Hornets have been taking what they’ve been given. After assisting on 59 percent of their baskets in the regular season (17th in the league), they’ve assisted on only 37 percent in the playoffs (last by a wide margin).

Only Portland had a bigger home-road NetRtg differential in the regular season than the Heat, who were 9.1 points per 100 possessions better (7.1 better on offense) in Miami than they were elsewhere. It shouldn’t be a big surprise that this series turned when it moved to Charlotte, and location will have an impact on the outcomes of the next two or three games.

But the series will also be determined in the paint.

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