Hornets playoffs: Part 10 – Franchise snaps long postseason losing streak with 2016 postseason play
This is the 10th in a series on Charlotte’s previous NBA playoff seasons. Here’s a look at other stories in the 10-part series:
Part 1 – The Hive Is Alive as the Hornets win their first postseason series in 1993. Link: https://carolinassportshub.com/hornets-playoffs-part-1-the-hive-is-alive-as-the-hornets-win-their-first-postseason-series-in-1993/
Part 2 – Homecourt no advantage against Michael Jordan’s late-season return in 1995. Link: https://carolinassportshub.com/hornets-playoffs-part-2-homecourt-no-advantage-against-michael-jordans-late-season-return-in-1995/
Part 3 – Hard Ball runs into a motivated former Charlotte All-Star in 1997. Link: https://carolinassportshub.com/hornets-playoffs-part-3-hard-ball-runs-into-a-motivated-former-charlotte-all-star-in-1997/
Part 4 – Hornets dispatch Hawks, hand “Last Dance” Bulls their first playoff loss in 1998. Link: https://carolinassportshub.com/hornets-playoffs-part-4-hornets-dispatch-hawks-hand-last-dance-bulls-their-first-playoff-loss-in-1998/
Part 5 – Tragedy mars season, then Iverson too much to overcome in 2000 playoffs. Link: https://carolinassportshub.com/hornets-playoffs-part-5-tragedy-mars-season-then-iverson-too-much-to-overcome-in-2000-playoffs/
Part 6 – Headband fever sparks longest playoff run in season of off-court turmoil in 2001. Link: https://carolinassportshub.com/hornets-playoffs-part-6-headband-fever-sparks-longest-playoff-run-in-season-of-off-court-turmoil-in-2001/
Part 7 – Lame duck Hornets again advance to conference semifinals in 2002. Link: https://carolinassportshub.com/hornets-playoffs-part-7-lame-duck-hornets-again-advance-to-conference-semifinals-in-2002/
Part 8 – Early season trade sparks expansion franchise into playoffs in 2010. Link: https://carolinassportshub.com/hornets-playoffs-part-8-early-season-trade-sparks-expansion-franchise-into-playoffs-in-2010/
Part 9 – First-year head coach, offseason free agent acquisition led to playoffs in 2014. Link: https://carolinassportshub.com/hornets-playoffs-part-9-first-year-head-coach-offseason-free-agent-acquisition-lead-to-playoffs-in-2014/
By Richard Walker
The 2015-16 Charlotte Hornets felt some pressure to realize the high expectations that weren’t met the previous season.
Coach Steve Clifford had guided the final “Bobcats” team to a 43-39 record and a first round playoff exit against defending Eastern Conference champion Miami in 2014
And the 2014 summer also saw the franchise re-branded “Hornets” with additions the franchise felt would would ensure another postseason appearance.
It didn’t happen as the team slipped to 33-49 and led Clifford and general manager Rich Cho to make moves in the summer of 2015 that ended in another playoff appearance.
Trades acquired Nic Batum (from Portland), Jeremy Lamb (Oklahoma City) and Spencer Hawes (Los Angeles Clippers), Frank Kaminsky and P.J. Hairston were first-round picks in the 2015 NBA Draft and Jeremy Lin was signed to a two-year, $4.3 million free agent contract.
Given how well Lin complemented top scorer Kemba Walker, it was one of the best deals in franchise history.
The Hornets started out strong, going 10-7 in November and 7-7 in December before slipping to 6-11 in January. Then Charlotte played its best basketball down the stretch, going 7-3 in February, 13-3 in March and 5-3 in April aided by the trade deadline acquisition of Courtney Lee from Memphis.
The Hornets’ success in March helped Clifford earn NBA Coach of the Month honors.
The strong finish earned the franchise a No. 6 Eastern Conference seeding and a spot opposite the Miami Heat in the postseason.
Charlotte the playoffs hearing much about the franchise’s lack of postseason success.
There was good reason for that as the franchise entered the 2016 playoffs with a 10-game playoff losing streak that dated to 2002.
Against a Heat team featuring Dwyane Wade, Luol Deng, Goran Dragic and Gastonia’s Hassan Whiteside, that streak grew to 12 games and created extraordinary pressure – and excitement – entering Game 3 of the series on April 23, 2016 at the Spectrum Center.
Following 123-91 and 115-103 losses and losing Batum (strained foot) to injury, the Hornets seemed to have their backs against the wall.
Instead, Lin scored 18 points in the game and Kaminsky nine of his 15 during an 18-0 third quarter surge that snapped a 53-all tie and delighted a sellout crowd of 19,604 in a 96-80 victory.
In Game 2 in front of 19,156 fans, Charlotte evened the series at two games apiece as Walker scored 34 and Lin 21 in an 89-85 victory.
Two days after both teams had held homecourt advantage through the first four games of the series, the Hornets broke through with a 90-88 victory in Game 5 in Miami as Marvin Williams scored 17 points and Lee’s 3-pointer with 25.2 seconds left gave Charlotte the lead for good.
It set the stage for an arena-record crowd of 19,636 hoping to see the Hornets take their first playoff series win since 2002.
But Wade’s 23 points that included his first 3-pointer since December helped Miami overcome Walker’s game-high 37 points in a 97-90 victory that sent the teams back to Miami for a seventh and decisive playoff game on May 1, 2016.
Unfortunately for Charlotte, the Heat played arguably its best game of the season by leading wire-to-wire in a 106-73 victory that ended the Hornets best season since the NBA returned to Charlotte in 2004.
Dragic scored 25 points and Whiteside had 10 points and 12 rebounds and Walker was limited to nine points on three of 16 shooting.
The 2016 Hornets
Record: 48-34 (3-4 in playoffs)
Head coach: Steve Clifford
Top scorers: Kemba Walker 20.9, Nic Batum 14.9, Al Jefferson 12.0, Marvin Williams 11.9, Jeremy Lin 11.7, Courtney Lee 8.9, Jeremy Lamb 8.8, Cody Zeller 8.7
Top rebounders: Jefferson 6.4, Williams 6.4, Zeller 6.2, Batum 6.1
Notes: Whiteside attended three high schools in Gastonia but never played before emerging as a prospect at Lenoir’s Patterson School. Against Charlotte in the 2016 playoffs, he started all seven games and averaged 13.1 points, 11.4 rebounds and 3.3 blocks while converting 69.8 percent of his field goal attempts.