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Trae Young scored 32 of his 38 points in the second half and the Atlanta Hawks overcame losing center Clint Capela with a knee injury to beat the Cleveland Cavaliers 107-101 in Friday night’s play-in to win the game. Eastern Conference Playoff No. 8. seed.
Young started slow for the second game in a row, but “Ice Trae”, as he imagines, warmed up when it mattered most.
The All-Star guard scored 16 points in the third quarter to rally the Hawks after a 10-point halftime deficit, and added 16 more in the fourth to finish off the Cavs, whose inexperience showed up all throughout the second half.
Bogdan Bogdanovic added 19 points for Atlanta, which will face No. 1 seed Miami in the first round. Game 1 is Sunday in South Florida.
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The Hawks, who reached the conference finals a year ago, may have to continue without Capela. The 6-foot-10 center hypertensed his right knee late in the first half, had to be helped off the ground and couldn’t come back.
Lauri Markkanen scored 26 and Darius Garland 21 for the young Cavaliers, whose unexpected season fell just short of a playoff berth.
Cleveland hasn’t made the playoffs since 2018, and the Cavs haven’t made the playoffs without LeBron James on their roster since 1998.
As if to add insult to injury, James tweeted an ice cube emoji in the closing seconds – a nod to Young – as the Hawks ended Cleveland’s season.
Lifted by a rowdy, towel-waving crowd at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse, the Cavs were in position to advance and played well for long stretches. However, Cleveland’s offense bogged down in the third quarter and the Cavs had no defensive answer for Young.
As the final seconds ticked away, Young waved goodbye as the Cleveland crowd thinned out and headed for the exits.
Those who remained hailed the Cavs, who never expected to go this far after winning just 22 games last season. Although they’ve been relegated to lottery picks and lost since James left after a four-year run to the NBA Finals four years ago, the future in Cleveland is bright.
With the season on the line, Cleveland got a huge emotional and defensive lift with the return of All-Star center Jarrett Allen, who had missed the previous 19 games with a broken finger in his left hand. Allen finished with 11 points.
The Hawks were in deep trouble late in the third quarter, when Young finally warmed up.
Ignoring some vulgar chants from Cleveland fans, the dazzling guard made a pair of 3-pointers and scored Atlanta’s final 12 points in the quarter as the Hawks closed with a 17-8 run over the 3: 48 finals to tie 84-everything in the last 12 minutes.
Markkanen had four 3-pointers and Cleveland had six long-range shots in the first 12 minutes to open an 11-point lead after one.
Atlanta assisted with sloppy play and committed seven turnovers, including four by Young.
But once he started handling the ball and shooting, there was no stopping him.
Hawks: Danilo Gallinari added 14 points. … Young averaged 32.5 points in four games against Cleveland in the regular season. … F/C John Collins (finger, foot) and Lou Williams (back) both missed out. … Committed a minimum of 11.9 turnovers per game during the regular season.
Cavaliers: Kevin Love only played 10 minutes – one in the second half. … Cleveland’s 22-win improvement was the second-biggest in club history. The 1991-92 Cavs jumped 24 games.
It was an amazing sports night in Cleveland.
As the Hawks and Cavaliers tangled with a playoff berth up for grabs, the Guardians played their first home game since rebranding next door at Progressive Field.
The doubleheader was reminiscent of 2016, when the Cavs received the NBA title rings on opening night as the Cleveland baseball team, then called the Indians, staged a World Series game.
Hawks: Atlanta went 1-3 against Miami on the season.
Cavaliers: More time to rest after an injury-ravaged season.