By PAUL NEWBERRY – AP sportswriter
ATLANTA (AP) — For at least one night, the Atlanta Hawks looked like the team that put on 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 surge on Wednesday that led the Hawks to a 132-103 loss to the Charlotte Hornets in a play-in game.
“We’re definitely confident right now,” Hunter said. “But we still have a lot to do. We are not satisfied yet.”
The Hawks were a bit of a disappointment in the regular season, finishing ninth in the East after their surprise playoff win in 2021.
They still need to win one more play-in game to make the playoffs and travel to Cleveland to face the Cavaliers on Friday night. The winner will claim the No. 8 East and face the top seeded Miami Heat in the opening round of the playoffs.
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The season is over for the Hornets, who finished 9-10 in the play-in game for the second straight year and haven’t made the playoffs since 2016.
Still, coach James Borrego called it another step forward for a side that’s rebuilding.
“A lot of good things have happened for this franchise based on where we are today compared to where we were two or three years ago,” he said.
Miles Bridges was kicked out in the fourth quarter and could face additional punishment from the league office after apparently hitting a young fan with his mouthpiece.
All five Atlanta starters hit double digits, as did bench Bogdan Bogdanovic. It was hunter who made it big in the crucial third period, breaking out with 16 points after being held at 3 in the first half.
“I think I’m a big part of this team,” Hunter said. “The fact that I’m aggressive, scoring goals and defending helps this team a lot.”
The Hornets finished the regular season strong and felt they had a good chance of winning a few play-in games along the way. But those hopes crumbled against their I-85 rival.
LaMelo Ball led Charlotte with 26 points on 7-of-25 shooting.
The Hawks led by 13 points in the first half before settling for a 60-52 advantage at the break. Charlotte had a bit of momentum in the final minutes of half but that certainly didn’t carry over into the third.
The Hawks outplayed the Hornets 42-24 during that 12-minute barrage, hit 16 of 24 shots and led 102-76 en route to the final third.
With the Hornets doubling on every opportunity, Young made just 1 of 9 shots in the first quarter and 3 of 13 in the first half.
But his teammates found plenty of open looks 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, it just opens the floor for everyone else. I have to accept it.”
Charlotte should have known what night it was going to be on her way to State Farm Arena.
The Hornets’ chartered bus was blocked by a freight train stopping at an intersection near the downtown sports complex. The bus had to turn around and take a different route to the arena, delaying Charlotte’s arrival for the pregame warm-up.
It didn’t get much better when the game tipped.
The Hornets’ frustration boiled over with about 6 1/2 minutes left bridges complained so badly about a goalie call that he caught two quick technicians and got thrown out.
Then, when a Hawks fan barked at him on his way to the dressing room, the Hornets player frantically threw his mouthpiece and appeared to punch a woman who was simply watching the scene.
Bridges took to Twitter shortly after the game looking for redemption.
“Someone put me in touch with the young lady,” he said. “This is unacceptable.”
Bridges said He will accept any penalty he gets from the league.
“I was upset with a call, really a few calls,” he said. “I let my temper get the best of me. It was definitely the wrong thing to do.”
It was the Hawks’ first time in a play-in game, but Hunter knows something about the unique feel of the format.
During his college career in Virginia, he helped lead the Cavaliers to the 2019 national championship.
“It’s like the NCAA tournament,” Hunter said. “I’m not sure how I feel about it. We won, so I like it. But I am not sure. It’s tough.”
Hornets: Terry Rozier had 21 points. …. As a team, Charlotte shot 37.8% (37 of 90) from the field.
Hawks: F. John Collins (sprained foot, sprained finger) has intensified his training but still hasn’t been able to play. He hasn’t been in a game since March 11. … G Lou Williams was also inactive with lower back problems. … Capela had 17 rebounds and led the Hawks to a 54-41 lead on the boards.
The Hawks went 3-1 with the Cavaliers in the regular season, separating the two games in Cleveland.
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