What was billed to be a battle between Trae Young and LaMelo Ball ended up being a struggle for both star point guards. Young finished the game with 24 points and 10 assists, but shot 8 of 24 from the field and 1 of 7 from three. Ball ended up with similar struggles on offense, with his 26 points, five rebounds and seven assists coming through 7 of 25 shots (4 of 14 from deep).
What made the difference today, much like the Minnesota Timberwolves’ victory yesterday, was how the two stars’ supporting casts stepped up. With their lead men having trouble with their shot, one squad stepped up big time while the other struggled.
The Hornets, who started off with an early four-point lead, couldn’t get enough offense going in the first half. Still, they were only behind 60-52 at halftime, but a pivotal third quarter ruined their chances at facing the Cleveland Cavaliers for the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference. They were soundly outplayed after the half by the Hawks, who went red hot and outscored them 42-24 in the third to open up a 26-point lead that they would never relinquish.
It was a complete performance, too, with five other Hawks scoring in double figures:
- DeAndre Hunter (22 points, seven rebounds)
- Danilo Gallinari (18 points)
- Clint Capela (15 points, 17 rebounds, two steals, three blocks)
- Kevin Huerter (13 points, five rebounds, four assists)
- Bogdan Bogdanovic (13 points)
Delon Wright and Timothy Luwawu-Cabaru also narrowly missed the mark with eight points apiece.
Even though Young didn’t shoot the ball well, he still made a number of big buckets that reminded defenders not to leave him alone.
This, in turn, opened up plenty of opportunities for him to dish the ball to open teammates, who took full advantage. You know Young is feared when you start seeing four defenders still collapsing on him even when he’s having such a crappy shooting night. As the first player to lead the league in points and assists in a single season in almost 50 years, Young showed why his assist totals was so high this year.
In contrast, the Hornets just couldn’t get anything going from the field. Terry Rozier couldn’t make a shot either, finishing with 21 points and 8 of 22 from the field. Miles Bridges finished with 12 points on 5 of 11 shooting, and PJ Washington was the only one to shoot above 50% at 7 of 10 while contributing in 17 points.
This victory will be a huge confidence booster for the Hawks, who must now face a game Cleveland squad that had some strong moments against the Brooklyn Nets in their battle for the seventh seed. Young will definitely have to play better against the Cavaliers, who are still clinging onto the hope that Jarrett Allen will come back.
Still, Young and the rest of last year’s Eastern Conference Finalists will be happy with their performance, and in a single-game elimination format, they’re capable of anything.