Trae Young of the Atlanta Hawks dribbles the ball against Jalen McDaniels of the Charlotte Hornets during the second half at State Farm Arena on April 13, 2022 in Atlanta, Georgia. (AFP)
Trae Young scored 24 points as the Atlanta Hawks thrashed the Charlotte Hornets while the New Orleans Pelicans eliminated San Antonio in the NBA’s play-in tournament on Wednesday.
A decisive burst of scoring from Young and De’Andre Hunter in the third quarter saw the Hawks take control against an outclassed Charlotte team at Atlanta’s State Farm Arena.
Atlanta will now face Cleveland in the final round of the play-in tournament on Friday, where a place in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs — against top-seeded Miami — will be up for grabs.
“We’re clicking at the right time and this is the time to be clicking,” Young said.
After edging into a 60-52 halftime lead, Atlanta effectively sealed victory with a devastating third-quarter performance, outscoring the Hornets 42-24 and racing into a lead that stretched to 26 points at one stage.
Hunter and Young combined for 30 of those points in the third quarter, Hunter scoring 16 and Young adding 14, including three from outside the arc.
Hunter finished with 22 points as Atlanta’s balanced offense once again shared the scoring around.
Six Atlanta players finished in double figures, with Danilo Gallinari claiming 18 points, Clint Capela chipping in with 15 and Kevin Huerter and Bogdan Bogdanovic adding 13 points apiece.
“We’ve got a lot of guys who can play,” Young said. “We’ve dealt with a lot of injuries this year but we’ve got a lot of guys who can step up and make plays anytime throughout the game.”
McCollum spurs Pelicans
New Orleans proved too strong for a youthful San Antonio side in the Western Conference’s sudden death elimination game, winning 113-103.
C.J. McCollum led the scoring with 32 points as the Pelicans punched their ticket to a win-or-go-home against the Los Angeles Clippers on Friday.
The winner of that game will advance to a first round playoff series against the top-seeded Phoenix Suns.
New Orleans were given a scare by San Antonio down the stretch however after the Spurs gradually chipped away at a 21-point deficit early in the fourth quarter to trail by just six points with around five minutes left.
But eight points in the closing stages from Brandon Ingram, who finished with 27 points, and a big defensive display from Jonas Valanciunas (22 points, 14 rebounds, two blocks) settled the Pelicans’ nerves and closed out the win.
“I thought we did a pretty good job of showing poise down the stretch,” McCollum said. “We had some lapses, but all in all it was a good defensive effort.”
The defeat could possibly be the last NBA game in the glittering career of San Antonio’s veteran coach Gregg Popovich.
The 73-year-old led the Spurs to five NBA championships but has faced increased speculation about his future this season, with many around the NBA tipping that he may retire after 26 seasons.
Popovich however quickly shut down questions about whether he planned to return next season.
“That question’s inappropriate,” Popovich told a reporter, instead preferring to dwell on the growth of his young team, who have an average of 24.
“We’ve never quit all year long and tonight was a good example,” Popovich said. “We played poorly for three quarters and the three best players for New Orleans all played great. If that happens, you’re going to lose if you don’t match it.”
“It’s the playoffs. The physicality and the grunt is really important, and we didn’t have it for three quarters,” he added.
“Great lessons for our guys. I don’t know if it was the enormity of the situation …Our youth showed until we collected ourselves, but it took too long.”
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