Without Dwyane Wade (sitting out his sixth straight game), the Heat were looking for improved offense against a defensive-minded Hornets team that had beaten Miami previously this season. That was the case in the first half, as Mario Chalmers started off the game going 4-of-4 and dishing out 8 assists to help set the pace. Many of those passes were to an active Luol Deng, who scored 19 points through the first two quarters and finished the night with 26 points (on 10-of-14 shooting).
Miami's perimeter shooting was excellent, going 6-of-9 while the Hornets shot abysmally, going just 2-of-12 from outside the arc. The Hornets were kept in it by Lance Stephenson, who scored 10 points in the second period, and Al Jefferson, who continues to torch the Heat with an array of low-post moves and deceptively soft jumpers.
The Heat were also more shorthanded than usual due to the injury of Chris Andersen, who jumped to block a shot and landed awkwardly on an opposing player's foot, twisting his right ankle badly. Andersen was carried off the court and eventually limped into the locker room and did not return,
Perhaps fatigue crept in during the third quarter, as Charlotte clawed their way back behind the efforts of reserves Gary Neal and Cody Zeller. Neal, a streaky shooter, has had some solid performances against Miami and Sunday's game was no exception, as he finished with 13 points, all of which seemed to come at key moments of the game.
Zeller, the lanky 7-footer, has been a boost for the Hornets in both games against Miami, using his length to affect Chris Bosh on defense, and scoring at the rim on a number of second-chance opportunities. Behind Neal and Zeller, Charlotte outscored Miami 28-14 in the third and went into the last quarter up by 5, 72-67.
But the fourth quarter was a mix of the ugly and the sublime, as both teams struggled to make wide-open shots while still hitting just enough to keep the score going back and forth. Stephenson (who finished with 17 points) was in foul trouble for most of the game and Charlotte went over the limit with over six minutes left in the game. Miami attacked the rim with renewed intensity and Chalmers was the greatest beneficiary; he shot 10 free throw attempts in the game, often at moments when Miami desperately needed a score.
Miami was down, 86-79, when Bosh hit his second 3-pointer of the game, followed by a Shabazz Napier steal (leading to two free throws) and a Napier 3-pointer to give the Heat a 1-point lead.
Neal and Hornets guard Kemba Walker (a former teammate of Napier's at the University of Connecticut) put Charlotte up 2 with 2:30 left in the game. Both teams were unable to make a single shot for nearly two minutes (with the exception of a Chalmers free throw) until Bosh hit a turnaround jumper from 15-feet away with Zeller draped all over him.
With just :30 seconds left in the game, Miami had to give its best defensive effort and they were able to harass Walker, who missed on a short jumpshot. Miami regained possession but Chalmers turned the ball over with just :14 seconds left in the game (replays showed a lot of contact but no foul was called). Walker missed another shot and Jefferson couldn't tip in the rebound as time expired and Miami held on to 1-point win.
Deng's shooting was spectacular all night and his defense in the game's final moments was a difference maker. Chalmers (20 points) and Napier (scoring 14 points and playing a significant amount of time with the absence of Norris Cole) were clutch, hitting big shots to keep Miami close as the Hornets were looked to extend their lead. Charlotte was led by Jefferson's 22 points, as well as 17 points from Stephenson and 16 from Walker.
It was, despite some shaky moments, a good win for Miami. They go back on the court on Tuesday, when they face the Golden State Warriors, one of the best teams in the NBA this season. Miami Heat broadcasters believed that Wade would sit out Tuesday's game and then rejoin the team on Sunday, November 29 when Miami travels to Madison Square Garden to face the New York Knicks.