Apr 27, 2016; Miami, FL, USA; Charlotte Hornets forward Marvin Williams (2) shoots over Miami Heat forward Luol Deng (9) during the first half in game five of the first round of the NBA Playoffs at American Airlines Arena. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Marvin Williams returns to form, Hornets take 3-2 series lead

The power of the 3-pointer knows no bounds. In Game 5 of a hotly contested first round series between the Charlotte Hornets and Miami Heat, the NBA’s newfound discovery of this calculus was on full display. Miami outscored Charlotte in the paint (48 to 34), on second chance points (12 to 5) and in transition (13 to just 4). The Heat also attempted and made more free throws. But it wasn’t enough to overcome Charlotte’s decisive advantage from beyond the arc, which was the catalyst for Hornets prevailing 90-88 on the road in a thrilling game down in South Beach.

The Hornets were able to win two off the first four games of this series despite being unable to find their footing from deep. That, however, changed in spectacular fashion Wednesday night. Charlotte splashed 12 of their 24 three-point field goals (Miami was 5 of 18), and that’s why this series is headed back to North Carolina with the Hornets up 3-2, and having a chance to close it out Friday night in Uptown.

In the first four games of the series, Marvin Williams struggled: he shot just 19.4 percent from the field, and connected on only two 3-pointers. Charlotte won two of those contests, but Steve Clifford needed his power forward to get going, and Williams answered the bell. The former Tar Heel connected on three of his four 3s, and led the Hornets with 17 points, including a courageous three-ball with 3:07 left in regulation that gave Charlotte an 85-84 lead.

That shot came as the result of a beautifully-designed out of timeout play. Kemba Walker, who suffered another off night shooting (4 of 18), headed up the court, and initiated pick-and-roll action with Cody Zeller. As Walker dribbled to his strong right hand off the screen, Zeller set a pin-down screen to free Williams — defended closely by Luol Deng — at the top of the key for a relatively open look. Bang, three points. According to inpredictable.com, that shot improved Charlotte’s win probability by 16.6 percent.

While it was nice to have Williams hooping on the offensive end, for the second straight game, Charlotte received some unexpected contributions from backup center Spencer Hawes. The man who rocks a man bun played nearly 15 minutes Wednesday night, and in that time, Miami scored a lowly .51 points per possession.

Hawes wasn’t the only Hornet who dug in defensively, though. The Heat scored .90 points per possessions last night — a number that would better San Antonio’s historically great defense. Zeller, for the third straight game, was phenomenal on the defensive end; Al Jefferson has held his own at times against Miami’s Hassan Whiteside, but Zeller’s strong two-way play is a necessity. On plays at the rim defended by Hawes and Zeller, the Heat shot just 2 for 9 (22.2 percent).

Nicolas Batum, who missed Games 3 and 4 while nursing injuries to his foot and ankle, returned. For the first time all season, Batum came off the bench — Clifford once again started a big frontline, including rookie Frank Kaminsky. Batum looked incredibly gimpy throughout the game, especially in the first half, but he made several high-leverage plays for Charlotte, including assists on back-to-back possessions in the third quarter — one to Jefferson, one to Zeller.

Again, Batum doesn’t appear to be that close to 100 percent, but he hit two just massive 3-pointers in the fourth quarter, and he was a part of Charlotte’s best lineup that played more than 3 minutes together last night. Batum-Walker-Hawes-Zeller-Jeremy Lin posted a net rating of 34 points per 100 possessions during 8 minutes of action, per NBA.com.

Lin was heroic for Charlotte in Game 5, too. He couldn’t find his shot, but his playmaking was critical — handing out a team-high seven assists. Miami, however, did punish Charlotte at times when Lin was matched up with a bigger guard — in particular, Dwyane Wade.

This was as close to a vintage D-Wade performance as you’re going to get in 2016. Wade bullied his way into 25 points, and was wildly efficient near the rim: 7 for 10 around the basket. Wade got his — and dished out four assists — but Charlotte made him work for his production. The Hornets, in classic Clifford fashion — congested the paint and forced a bunch of turnovers, including five from D-Wade.

Charlotte’s best defender of Wade this series has been Courtney Lee. Since his arrival at the trade deadline from Memphis, Lee’s been a steadying force on this roster: a low-usage wing, who can defend three positions, run the occasional pick-and-roll, but mostly spot up for catch-and-shoot 3s. He also made the play of the game last night, too.

With around 30 seconds remaining in the game — Heat up 88-87 — Kemba drove into the lane off a Zeller screen. He was corralled by Whiteside and forced into a difficult pull-up two. Walker missed, but what happened next would determine the game: as the ball caromed off the rim towards Miami’s Joe Johnson, Lee — who was stationed in the corner — sprinted towards the rock. Lee snatched the free money, dished to Lin, who gave it right back to Lee. With 25.4 seconds remaining, Lee rose up and buried a 25-foot game-winning 3-pointer.

It took Charlotte 14 years to win a playoff game; they’ve now won three straight, and have Miami on the verge of elimination. Game 6 will take place Friday night. The Hornets would be wise to finish this off on their home floor — where they’ve gone 32-11 this season — and not risk a potential Game 7 back in Miami.

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