Trae Young bounced back from a sluggish start to score 24 points and De’Andre Hunter led a third-quarter surge that carried the Atlanta Hawks to a 132-103 rout of the Charlotte Hornets in an Eastern Conference play-in game Wednesday night.
The Hawks, who finished ninth in the East after a surprising run to the conference final a year ago, will 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 opening round of the playoffs.
The season is over for the Hornets, who were overwhelmed in the 9-10 play-in game for the second year in a row and haven’t made the playoffs since 2016.
All five Atlanta starters scored in double figures, as did Bogdan Bogdanovic off the bench. It was Hunter who came up big in the decisive third period, bursting out with 16 points after being held to 3 in the first half.
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Hunter finished with 22 points, while Danilo Gallinari added 18 and Clint Capela 15. Kevin Huerter and Bogdanovic chipped in with 13 apiece.
The Hornets closed the regular season strong and felt like they had a good chance to win a couple of play-in games on the road. But those hopes came crashing down against their I-85 rival.
LaMelo Ball led with 26 points but made only 7 of 25 shots.
The Hawks led by as many as 13 in the first half before settling for a 60-52 advantage at the break. Charlotte had a bit of momentum in the closing minutes of the half, but it sure didn’t carry over to the third.
The Hawks outscored the Hornets 42-24 during that 12-minute barrage, hitting 16 of 24 shots, and led 102-76 heading to the final period.
With the Hornets doubling at every opportunity, Young made only 1 of 9 shots in the opening quarter and 3 of 13 in the first half.
But his teammates found plenty of open looks and made the Hornets pay dearly.
Charlotte should’ve known what kind of night it would be on their way to State Farm Arena.
The Hornets’ chartered bus was blocked by a freight train that stopped on a 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 pregame warmups.
It didn’t get much better once the game tipped off.
The Hornets’ frustration boiled over with about 6 1/2 minutes to go when Miles Bridges complained so vehemently about a goaltending call that he picked up two quick technicals and was ejected.