For one night, at least, the Atlanta Hawks looked like the team that made a stunning run to the Eastern Conference Finals last summer.
Trae Young rebounded from a slow start to score 24 points and De’Andre Hunter led a third-quarter push Wednesday that led the Hawks to a 132-103 rout of the Charlotte Hornets in a playoff.
“We’re definitely confident right now,” Hunter said. “But we still have a lot of work to do. We are not satisfied yet.”
The Hawks were a little underwhelmed in the regular season, finishing ninth in the East after their surprising playoff success in 2021.
They still need to win one more game just to qualify for the playoffs, heading 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.
The season is over for the Hornets, who were overwhelmed in the 9-10 playoff for the second straight year and haven’t made the playoffs since 2016.
Miles Bridges was ejected in the fourth quarter and could face further punishment from the league office after he appeared to hit a young fan with his spokesperson.
- Points: Trae Young – 24
- Rebounds: Clint Capela – 17
- Assists: Trae Young – 11
- Points: LaMelo Ball – 26
- Rebounds: PJ Washington, Cody Martin – 6
- Assists: LaMelo Ball – 8
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 held down to 3 in the first half.
“I think I’m a big part of this team,” Hunter said. “The fact that I’m aggressive, scoring and defending helps this team a lot.”
Hunter finished with 22 points, while Danilo Gallinari added 18 and Clint Capela 15. Kevin Huerter and Bogdanovic added 13 points each.
LaMelo Ball led Charlotte with 26 points on 7-of-25 shooting and Terry Rozier had 21 points. As a team, Charlotte shot just 37.8 percent (37 of 90) from the field.
The Hawks led by 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 up at every opportunity, Young shot just 1 of 9 in the first quarter and 3 of 13 in the first half.
But his teammates found plenty of open eyes and made the Hornets pay dearly.
“It’s great for my team,” said Young, who had 11 assists. “If you can get two guys to guard you, that just opens the door for everyone. I gotta kiss it.”
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.
It didn’t improve much once the game launched.
Ejection from bridges
The Hornets’ frustration boiled over with about 6½ minutes to go when Bridges complained so vehemently about a goalie call that he caught two quick techniques and was sent off.
Then, as a Hawks fan yelled at him on the way to the locker room, the Hornets player savagely threw his mouthpiece and appeared to punch a woman who was simply watching the scene.
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.”
Bridges said he would accept whatever punishment he would receive from the league.
“I was upset with a call, a few calls really,” he said. “I let my temper get the better of me. It was definitely the wrong thing to do.”
NCAA Tournament Feel
The Hawks were in a game of play for the first time, but Hunter knows something about the unique feel of the format.
During his college career at Virginia, he helped lead the Cavaliers to the national championship in 2019.
“It’s like the NCAA Tournament,” Hunter said. “I’m not sure what you think about it. We won, so I guess I like it. But I’m not sure. It’s difficult.”
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