(The Sports Xchange) - When the Miami Heat needed someone to step up at crunch time Friday, Dwyane Wade delivered.
As a result, the Heat have forced a deciding Game 7 in their first-round Eastern Conference playoff series against the Charlotte Hornets.
Wade scored 23 points and hit two crucial baskets in the final minute as the Heat held off the Hornets 97-90 to even the series 3-3. Game 7 is scheduled for Sunday afternoon in Miami.
His 3-pointer with 46 seconds remaining gave the Heat a 93-88 lead, and after a Hornets basket he hit a fallaway 18-footer with 19.5 seconds left to push the lead back to five. He also hit a 3-pointer with 3:05 remaining to give the Heat a 90-81 lead, before the Hornets rallied and got as close as two.
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra continued to call Wade’s number down the stretch, and for good reason.
“Dwyane feels most alive when the competition is at its highest, when games feel like this,” Spoelstra said. “He was brilliant on both ends. I’ve seen him enough over the years that it just becomes about winning plays, whatever those may be. It’s born out of great competition. It brings the absolute best out of him.”
The 13-year veteran guard had not hit a 3-pointer since December, but he was looking to step up in any way he could with the game -- and the series -- on the line.
“A lot of the games have been like this, the two teams are very equal,” Wade said. “It takes special performances and big shots to win. Coach put the ball in my hands and I had to make some tough shots. Tonight, in Game 6, I trust my teammates, I love them, but if we were going to lose I was going to go out shooting.”
Wade’s performance overshadowed a brilliant evening by Charlotte’s Kemba Walker, who finished with 37 points. Walker single-handedly kept the Hornets in the game as he scored 12 straight Hornets points during their late comeback.
The Heat had been held to fewer than 90 points in each of the three previous games -- all Charlotte wins. They came ready to play offensively Friday, shooting 60 percent from the field in the first half and leading by as many as 13.
They cooled down in the second half and finished at 45.8 percent, and Wade was partly responsible. He missed six straight shots in the third quarter.
Walker brought the Hornets as close as 90-88 as the Heat went three straight possessions without scoring.
Wade said the 3-pointer with 3:05 left was the catalyst for everything he did in the final minute.
“The first one, they gave me,” Wade said. “There were like four seconds on the shot clock and I was able to line it up and get it to go. Then once I saw the first one fall, it’s like with all scorers, the basket gets bigger. At that point, I was just playing basketball. It was about getting the first one to fall. After that went in, that was it.”
The Heat also got 21 points from Luol Deng, 14 from Goran Dragic, 12 from Hassan Whiteside and 11 from Joe Johnson.
Walker’s 37 points came on 14-of-30 shooting and 4-of-8 from 3-point range.
The Hornets had only two others in double figures, though. Jefferson scored 18, and Cody Zeller scored 12. Jeremy Lin, a star throughout the series, finished 1-of-8 from the field for two points and Marvin Williams went scoreless on 0-for-7 shooting.
Hornets coach Steve Clifford didn’t like his team’s defense in the first half, and he noted that the Heat seemed to get all the 50-50 balls. The Hornets were outrebounded 46-31.
Still, Clifford knew the biggest reason his team lost.
“With the game on the line, Wade did what he has done for years,” Clifford said. “He showed why he’s been one of the great competitors and great winners in the league for a long time. Hats off to them. They played better than we did.”
“It’s always tough to lose, obviously,” Walker said. “We made so many mistakes. We just have to be better. But they just made great plays down the stretch and they deserved to win.”