Trae Young bounced back from a slow start as the Atlanta Hawks headed to a 132-103 rout of the Charlotte Hornets in the Eastern Conference playoff, a game that threatened to get ugly late when a fan was hit with a player’s spokesperson.
The Hawks, who finished ninth in the East after a surprising run to the Conference Finals a year ago, travel to Cleveland to face the Cavaliers on Friday night.
The winner claims the No. 8 seed in the East and will face the top-seeded Miami Heat in the first round of the playoffs.
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The season is over for the Hornets, who were overwhelmed in the 9-on-10 playoff for the second straight year and haven’t made the playoffs since 2016.
The Hornets’ frustration boiled over with about six-and-a-half minutes to go when Miles Bridges complained so vehemently about a goalkeeper call that he was given two quick technical fouls and sent off.
Bridges could face additional discipline from the league office.
As a Hawks fan yelled at him on the way to the locker room, the Hornets player savagely threw his mouthpiece and appeared to hit a woman in the stands.
Bridges took to Twitter shortly after the match, looking for redemption.
“Somebody put me in touch with the young woman,” he said. “This is unacceptable.”
All five Atlanta starters scored in double figures, as did Bogdan Bogdanovic off the bench. It was Hunter who came out on top in the decisive third period, exploding with 16 points after being limited to three in the first half.
Hunter finished with 22 points, while Danilo Gallinari added 18 and Clint Capela 15. Kevin Huerter and Bogdanovic added 13 points each.
The Hornets closed the regular season strong and felt like they had a good chance of winning a few qualifying games on the road. But those hopes have dashed.
LaMelo Ball led with 26 points but only made seven of 25 shots.
The Hawks led by no less than 13 in the first half before settling for a 60-52 advantage at the break. Charlotte had some momentum in the final minutes of the half, but it certainly didn’t carry over into the third.
The Hawks outshot the Hornets 42-24 in that 12-minute shootout, shooting 16 of 24 and leading 102-76 heading into the final period.
With the Hornets doubling at every opportunity, Young shot just 1 of 9 in the first quarter and three of 13 in the first half.
But his teammates found plenty of open eyes and made the Hornets pay dearly.
Charlotte should have known what kind of night it would be on her way to State Farm Arena.
The Hornets’ charter bus was blocked by a freight train that stopped at a level crossing near the downtown sports complex. The bus had to turn around and take a different route to the arena, delaying Charlotte’s arrival for pre-game warm-ups.
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