Heat Drop Heartbreaker To Hornets

Last-second heroics puts New Orleans in playoffs

New Orleans is going back to the playoffs, thanks in large part to dramatics from Rasual Butler and David West.

Butler hit a game-tying 3-pointer with no time remaining in regulation, West made the go-ahead jumper with 8.8 seconds left in overtime, and the Hornets stunned the Miami Heat 93-87 on Tuesday night.

Chris Paul finished with 26 points, nine rebounds and nine assists, and Peja Stojakovic added 24 points for the Hornets (48-29), who not only clinched their postseason berth but stayed thickly in the hunt for home-court advantage in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs.

“To clinch a second straight playoff is a good feeling for our guys and we’re going to take it,” New Orleans coach Byron Scott said. “I congratulated them in the locker room. Even though it’s not our main goal, it’s still one of our goals.”

Dwyane Wade scored 32 points before getting ejected with 1.4 seconds remaining and Michael Beasley added 25 for Miami (41-37), which remained a half-game ahead of Philadelphia in the race for the No. 5 spot in the East postseason chase. The Heat fell three games behind Atlanta for the fourth seed in the East.

“We just have to keep on plugging away,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “We’ve had some very difficult losses the last three weeks. We’ve bounced back from these kind of losses and we need to continue to do so.”

West had eight points in overtime, the last coming on the jumper that put New Orleans ahead for good.

The Heat—of course—gave the ball to Wade. But he lost the ball, never getting a shot away, and Stojakovic sealed it with a pair of free throws with 2.3 seconds left.

Wade insisted he got fouled by Paul, his Olympic teammate and good friend.

“Whether Chris hit the ball or not, he got me twice,” Wade said. “At that time, it was right there for the opening. We didn’t get the call and it took a game from us that we should have won. That’s a tough one to swallow. I’ll take getting thrown out of the game, because for my team, I’m going to stand up when I feel someone was wrong.”

West finished with 20 points for New Orleans, which still could realistically finish anywhere from third to eighth in the Western Conference.

Miami was down six when Wade had a three-point play with 1:51 left. His 3-point shot tied it at 87 with 33 seconds remaining, but the Heat didn’t score again.

The Heat had led for only 12 seconds all night when Wade found James Jones for a 3-pointer with 2:14 remaining in regulation, a shot that put Miami up 71-69. Wade connected with Jones again in nearly the same spot with 1:03 left, and when that 3 swished, the Heat lead was 76-72.

New Orleans wasn’t finished. Paul scored with 13 seconds left in regulation to cut Miami’s lead to two, and when Wade made one of two free throws with 10 seconds left, the Hornets needed a 3-pointer to tie.

Butler wound up with the ball on a broken play, and his shot from the right wing swished as time expired.

“That’s the NBA,” Wade said. “This is where amazing happens, right? It happened tonight. Unfortunately, it was against us.”

Once Butler’s shot went through the net, the Heat watched in stunned disbelief.

So, too, did Butler’s coach.

“I couldn’t do anything but just stand there because I couldn’t believe he just made that shot,” Scott said. “And I can’t believe we had the opportunity to go into overtime after some of the things we allowed to happen in the fourth quarter.”

For the second straight game, New Orleans struggled to score in the first half.

Unlike Sunday’s home debacle against Utah, it didn’t matter.

The Hornets—who were down 66-39 against the Jazz at intermission two nights earlier—only managed 40 points in the first two quarters against the Heat. Somehow, that was good enough for a 10-point lead, as Miami sputtered through its worst first half of the season.

Miami held New Orleans to 13 points in the second quarter. Problem was, the Heat scored 11, their worst of any quarter this season.

New Orleans stretched its lead to 47-34 on Hilton Armstrong’s dunk early in the third quarter, then proceeded to shoot 3-for-14 over the remainder of the period.

Wade’s 3-pointer with 1:55 remaining got the Heat within 54-48—the final points of the third quarter. And Miami eventually tied it at 56 when Beasley grabbed an offensive rebound and found Jamaal Magloire for a score in the lane with 9:09 remaining in the fourth.

Back and forth it went, until Butler—a former Heat forward—stole a win from his old team.

“CP came up to me after the ball went in and told me, ‘We’re going to win the game for you now,”’ Butler said.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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