After two deflating defeats in Miami, the Hornets fed off their home crowd to trim the deficit in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference first-round series to 2-1.
In the late game Saturday, Damian Lillard scored a game high 32 points as the Portland Trail Blazers beat Los Angeles 96-88 to cut the Clippers lead in the series to 2-1.
The Hornets led by five points at halftime, and held the Heat scoreless for almost seven minutes in an 18-0 scoring run in the third quarter that built their lead to 71-53.
The cushion grew to as many as 24 points in the fourth quarter as six Charlotte players finished in double figures.
It was a complete reversal from the Heat’s 106-80 home win in game one and a 115-103 win in game two.
In Dallas, the Oklahoma City Thunder moved another step closer to reaching the second round of the playoffs with a wire-to-wire 119-108 win over the Mavericks.
Oklahoma City has not trailed since its game two loss and it now has a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven series with game five set for Monday.
History is against a Dallas’ comeback in the series as only nine teams in NBA have rallied to win a best-of-seven playoff series after trailing 3-1.
Russell Westbrook had 25 points and 15 assists, and Kevin Durant finished with 19 points.
In Indianapolis, French centre Ian Mahinmi scored 22 points, pulled down 10 rebounds and handed out five assists to help the Indiana Pacers to a 100-83 series-tying win over Toronto.
George Hill added 22 points for the Pacers, which knotted the Eastern Conference set at two games apiece.
The All-Star guard dropped a career-high 42 points in a 111-103 win on Friday to keep his team from falling into an insurmountable 3-0 hole, but was involved in an incident with Atlanta’s Dennis Schroder that put his availability for next game in jeopardy.
At the end of the first quarter, Thomas hit Schroder’s face with his left hand and following a retaliation foul by the Hawks’ backup guard on the next possession and an exchange of words, they were each hit with a technical foul. The NBA didn’t suspend Thomas for Game 4, but instead assessed him a flagrant-1 foul.
“It was the right call,” Thomas said of the league’s ruling. “I’m really focused on Game 4, but I’m glad I wasn’t suspended.
“I knew what I did. On the replay, in a slower version it’s going to look like I looked at him and tried to hit him. If I tried to hit somebody, I would have hit them.
“I know the cameras are watching. I didn’t do it on purpose, but I’m just glad I wasn’t suspended and I can help my team.”
Schroder, who was incensed that Thomas wasn’t whistled for anything during the game, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution after the loss: “I’m not going to let nobody slap me in my face. I told him that. If you want to play like that, we’ll play like that. I was mad.”
Boston needed every bit of Thomas’ strong outing to stave off the Hawks as their star shot 12-of-24 from the field, 5-of-12 from long range and 13-of-15 from the free throw line.
Thomas’ outburst nearly matched his scoring total from Game 1 and 2 combined (43), and the five-foot-nine dynamo revealed he was helped by text messages from two former explosives guards in their own right.
“Allen Iverson just said, ‘Keep fighting. They did what they were supposed to do in Atlanta, now it’s time for you guys to take advantage of being at home,’” Thomas said. “Then Isiah Thomas just gave me a few tips that I can’t tell you guys about. He told me what he’d seen and he helped me out a lot.”
As well as Thomas’ monster game, the Celtics benefitted from a lineup tweak.
Coach Brad Stevens inserted versatile forward Jonas Jerebko in place of Jared Sullinger, opening up the floor on offence and allowing for more switching on defence.
The change resulted in Boston scoring 37 points in the first quarter after they scored just seven in the opening period of Game 3 – the lowest-scoring first quarter in playoff history in the shot clock era.
In the 12 minutes the starting five of Jerebko, Thomas, Jae Crowder, Amir Johnson and Even Turner was on the floor in Game 3, the Celtics had an offensive rating of 119.6 points per 100 possessions and a defensive rating of 109.0 points allowed per 100 possessions, resulting in a favourable plus-10.5 net.
Boston will hope to replicate its offensive success in Game 4 at home to tie the series before returning to Atlanta.
James Piercy and Jay Asser break down the first week of the NBA playoffs; has the resurrection of James Harden given the Rockets hope against the Curry-less Warriors? Do the Thunder have a Plan B? Are we looking at a deeper Clippers team? Wow, Miami are good… what did we miss? Do the Pacers have a hope against a hungry Jonas Valanciunas and the Raptors?
There’s also discussion surrounding Tom Thibodeau returning to the league with Minnesota and their enviable young core and whether or not Scott Brooks joining Washington is a not-so subtle attempt to try and lure KD to DC.
All this and more on the latest episode of the Sport360 NBA Podcast.