Category Archives: NBA

Ja Morant, with blurred vision, matches playoff career-high 47 points as Memphis Grizzlies even series with Golden State Warriors

All Ja Morant needed was one good eye to match his playoff career-high of 47 points and even the Memphis Grizzlies’ series with the Golden State Warriors.

Playing with blurred vision in his left eye after being poked in the third quarter, Morant scored the Grizzlies’ final 15 points to lift them to a 106-101 win in Game 2 of their Western Conference semifinal series at FedEx Forum.

Morant concluded with a spectacular 47 points, 8 assists and 8 rebounds to help Memphis avoid falling behind 0-2 in this best-of-seven series.

He joined LeBron James and Kobe Bryant as the only players with multiple 45-point games in the playoffs before turning 23 years old, according to research by ESPN Stats & Information.

And he did so after leaving the game at the end of the third quarter complaining, “I can’t see.”

“I still can’t [see],” Morant said when asked about his vision. “I can see on the middle. I can’t see on the outside. I got punched trying to get the rebound.” Morant added: “I got another good eye over here — 20-20 vision right here. Thank God for my right eye.”

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The Grizzlies trailed 97-93 with 3:50 remaining when Morant was in the midst of his fourth-quarter takeover. With starter Dillon Brooks ejected in the opening minutes due to a flagrant 2 foul on Gary Payton II, and Jaren Jackson Jr. having fouled out with 3:59 left, Morant scored on a second consecutive driving layup.

He then buried a 26-foot 3 and a 7-foot floater. Morant also drew a foul on Draymond Green as the two were chasing after a rebound that Green grabbed, but officials called a foul when he bumped into Morant with 49.8 seconds left. Morant made two free throws and then sank another driving floater to push the Grizzlies up 104-101 with 30.7 seconds left.

“I feel like I’ve just watched him transform into a true closer,” power forward Xavier Tillman said.

Morant sealed the game from the free throw line to even it up.

“Definitely big time,” Morant said of where this game ranks for him. “I felt like this was a must-win game for us. For me, I was frustrated with myself missing that layup in Game 1.”

Morant, whose career high is 52 points, was frustrated after missing a driving scoop layup over Klay Thompson and a trailing Payton at the end of Game 1’s 117-116 loss to Golden State.

Morant stated Warriors star Stephen Curry told him and Jackson after that loss that “it is going to be a battle. We are going to have some fun.”

As streamers fell from the ceiling after the buzzer on Tuesday night, Morant walked by Curry. He had returned the favor and told Curry, “We are going to have some fun.”

“I was able to return that message tonight,” Morant said. ” … I am having a lot of fun.”

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Brooklyn Nets’ Ben Simmons to undergo back surgery; expected recovery timeline of 3-4 months

Brooklyn Nets swingman Ben Simmons will require three to four months of rehabilitation after undergoing back surgery on Thursday, but is expected to be fully recovered to return to the court well ahead of preseason training camp in September, sources told ESPN on Wednesday.

Simmons, 25, is undergoing a microdiscectomy procedure to address pain located in a herniated disk in his lower back, the Nets stated Wednesday in a release.

The decision to undergo the surgery was reached after “consultation with multiple back specialists,” the team said.

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Despite several attempts that ultimately resulted in setbacks, Simmons never played a game for the Nets following a Feb. 10 trade with the Philadelphia 76ers.

Simmons had planned to return for Game 4 of the Nets’ Eastern Conference first-round series versus the Boston Celtics, but a week-plus of pain-free days ended with pain soreness on the eve of Brooklyn’s elimination.

Simmons and his agent, Klutch Sports CEO Rich Paul, met with Nets general manager Sean Marks and team officials the following day, agreeing to continue to work together on Simmons’ physical and mental well-being in the ultimate effort to try and return him to the court next season.

The surgery will clearly limit Simmons’ ability to progress on a 2022-23 return after missing the entirety of the past season with the Sixers and Nets.

Simmons, a three-time All-Star and the 2017 NBA Rookie of the Year, has three years and $114 million left on his contract after this season.

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Brown scores 30, Celtics beat Bucks 109-86 to even series

There was a moment during the Celtics’ series-opening loss to the Bucks when it seemed as if Jaylen Brown would never make a shot.

Early in Game 2, it felt like he might not miss.

Brown scored 25 of his 30 points in the first half, and Boston beat Milwaukee 109-86 on Tuesday night to even the Eastern Conference semifinals at one game apiece.

“It’s the playoffs. That’s it,” Brown said. “We can’t let one game kind of dictate how this series goes. We wanted to be aggressive from the gate.”

Brown shook off a dismal shooting night in Game 1, going 9 for 10 in the first half, including 5 for 5 from the 3-point line. Jayson Tatum added 19 points and eight assists. Grant Williams concluded with 21 points. Al Horford had 14 points and 11 rebounds. “We wanted to come and play like our season was on the line and we did,” Brown said.

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The series doesn’t resume until Game 3 on Saturday in Milwaukee.

Boston finished 20 of 43 from beyond the arc and scored 24 points off 16 Milwaukee turnovers.

“We wanted to match their physicality and punch back tonight,” Celtics coach Ime Udoka said. “A big message was show them who we are.”

They did that.

The Celtics played without Defensive Player of the Year Marcus Smart after he was ruled out before the game with a bruised right thigh he sustained in Game 1. 

Derrick White took his place in the starting lineup, making his first start in a playoff game since 2019 when he was with San Antonio.

“The ship’s got to keep going. Everybody got to do a little bit more,” Tatum said.

Even without Smart, the Celtics clamped down on Giannis Antetokounmpo after his triple-double in the series opener, limiting him to 28 points — mostly in the third quarter — nine rebounds and seven assists. Jrue Holiday added 19 points and seven assists. Bobby Portis chipped in 13 points and eight rebounds.

Antetokounmpo said the Celtics are doing a lot to make it tough for him inside.

“Strong bodies, being active, being physical —- that’s pretty much it,” he said. “It’s gotten tougher to find your teammates.”

With Smart watching in street clothes from the bench, the Celtics scored the game’s first seven points on their way to taking an 18-3 lead and forcing a quick timeout by the Bucks.

Boston scored from a variety of different spots on the court during the run – attacking both at the rim and inside the paint. It also included 12 points from the 3-point line, where the Celtics struggled for most of Game 1.

“It’s not Wilt Chamberlain down there (in the paint),” Udoka said. “We can get downhill and attack.”

Antetokounmpo missed his first six shots before ultimately getting on the scoreboard via a dunk with less than a minute left in the opening period.

It didn’t stop Boston from banking a 32-21 lead heading into the second quarter, boosted by 17 points from Brown –a career playoff-high for a quarter.

The Celtics continued to share and kept Milwaukee’s defense in chase mode, eventually taking a 65-40 edge into the half.

The Bucks cut into what had been a 26-point Celtics lead in the third quarter. Antetokounmpo keyed the charge with 18 points in the period. A 10-0 Milwaukee run, aided by a more than five-minute Celtics scoring drought, trimmed Boston’s lead to 72-56 late in the third quarter.

Milwaukee kept nibbling away and got it down it to 94-82 on a pair of free throws by Antetokounmpo. But Tatum made a 3-pointer and Boston pulled away again.

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Heat hold off Hawks 97-94, reach Eastern semifinals

If one play could tell the story of a five-game series, consider this one: Trae Young’s final shot from the field was a corner 3-point try that he rushed because he knew a defender was coming his way.

The shot bounced off the side of the backboard.

Take a bow, Miami. Even without Kyle Lowry and Jimmy Butler, defense carried the day — and carried the Heat into the Eastern Conference semifinals.

Victor Oladipo scored 23 points, Bam Adebayo added 20 points and 11 rebounds, and the Heat moved into Round 2 of the playoffs by eliminating Young and the Atlanta Hawks 97-94 on Tuesday night.

“The biggest thing about this game was our defense,” Adebayo said. That was, and is, Miami’s plan. The Heat swarmed Young from the start of Game 1 to the end of Game 5, holding Atlanta’s high-octane scorer to a 15.4-point average in the series on 32% shooting. Young had as many assists as he had turnovers — 30 of each.

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“They’re a good defensive team,” Young said. “Their team is more of a system than who they have on their team. No matter who they have out there, they can play. … And when they’ve got a guy that they’re targeting and trying to take away, they do a really good job of doing that.”

Tyler Herro scored 16, Max Strus scored 15 and Caleb Martin added 10 for the top-seeded Heat, who got the clincher with Butler and Lowry sitting out with injuries.

Young went 2 for 12 from the floor, scoring just 11 points. De’Andre Hunter scored 35 for Atlanta, which got 12 apiece from Kevin Huerter and Danilo Gallinari.

“Obviously, I didn’t shoot the ball well,” Young stated.

Hunter fouled out with 41.6 seconds left, Miami clinging to a three-point lead at the time. The Hawks got a stop, taking over with 29.2 seconds remaining, and retained possession after a missed shot from Gallinari went out of bounds off Miami.

The Hawks never got another shot off, time expired and Miami moved on.

“They are a hell of a team,” Hawks coach Nate McMillan said. “Those guys compete every second that they’re out on the floor and I have a great deal of respect for how they play.”

Onyeka Okongwu’s three-point play got Atlanta within 79-76 early in the fourth, the Hawks clawing back after being down by as many as 15.

But Herro hit a high-arcing jumper from the lane, Miami got a stop, and Oladipo hit a left-wing 3 on the next Heat possession to push the lead back to eight with 7:29 left. That’s how the final minutes went: Atlanta made a charge, Miami would hold it off, all the way to the end.

And now, the Heat get nearly a week off before facing either Philadelphia or Toronto in the East semis. Game 1 will be Monday in Miami.

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Grayson Allen sinks Chicago Bulls amid boos as Milwaukee Bucks take commanding 3-1 lead

In the days leading up to the team’s first road playoff games in Chicago, the Milwaukee Bucks used every chance they could to shower Grayson Allen with boos.

They booed Allen when he walked onto the team bus. They booed him when he arrived in the lobby of their team hotel. They even booed him during film sessions and when Allen touched the ball in practice.

So when Allen set back-to-back playoff career highs in Games 3 and 4 this weekend to help Milwaukee take a commanding 3-1 series lead over Chicago, the Bucks bench enjoyed booing him all the way.

“They have so much fun doing it,” Allen said with a laugh after scoring 27 points off the bench in the Bucks’ 119-95 victory Sunday afternoon. “I think it’s honestly hilarious. They’ve kind of turned it into a fun thing. It makes hearing it out there during the game a lot easier too because they think it’s so funny.”

Game 5 will be Wednesday night in Milwaukee.

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The Bucks started jeering their own teammate earlier this season once they heard the reaction Allen received every time he touched the ball during the team’s first game in Chicago back in March. Allen became public enemy No.1 to Chicago basketball fans after his flagrant foul on Bulls guard Alex Caruso during a game on Jan. 21 resulted in a fractured wrist for Caruso, forcing him to miss two months.

Allen stated Sunday that he had attempted to reach out to Caruso to apologize after the incident, but the two never connected.

The Bulls downplayed any lingering animosity toward Allen leading up to the series, but fans at the United Center have not let it go as easily, responding with loud boos each time Allen approached the scorer’s table or touched the ball on offense each game this season.

Even if he has gained a reputation as a villain in Chicago, Allen insisted after the game Sunday that he does not feed off such a negative reaction.

“It’s not naturally comfortable for me,” Allen said. “I am to the point now, anytime I go out and play basketball, I just remind myself to go out and have fun with this. … My personality is naturally uncomfortable with the attention, the booing, the heckling. It’s not something I feed off of. I’m not going out searching for it.”

That hasn’t stopped Allen’s teammates from having fun with it.

Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo suggested Allen frame a photo from Game 3 in which the Bucks bench is in the background booing Allen as he heads to the free throw line after a converted and-1.

Allen went 10-of-12 from the field on Sunday, including 6-of-7 from 3-point range, to outscore Chicago’s bench all by himself 27-17. He became the first Bucks player to score 25 points and knock down six 3s in a playoff game in team history and first Bucks player with at least 25 points off the bench since Tim Thomas in 2003, according to research by ESPN Stats & Information.

Allen even made plays on defense, collecting three steals and holding Chicago to 3-of-8 shooting when he was the primary defender.

Allen rebounded after going 0-for-4 from 3 to start the series in the first two games. His performance this weekend helped the Bucks withstand the loss of forward Khris Middleton, who will miss the rest of this first-round series with a sprained MCL in his left knee. Chicago had waited five years for a home playoff game here, and the fans’ reward was a weekend of uncompetitive basketball.

The Bulls were outscored by a combined score of 230-176 in the two games on their home floor and must win on Wednesday in Milwaukee to extend their season.

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Mavericks beat Jazz 126-118 to take 2-1 series lead

Jalen Brunson scored 31 points playing with a bruised back and the Dallas Mavericks — without the injured Luka Doncic — defeated the Utah Jazz 126-118 on Thursday night to take a 2-1 lead in the first-round playoff series.

Spencer Dinwiddie scored 10 of his 20 points in the fourth quarter for Dallas, Maxi Kleber had 17 points and Dorian Finney-Smith added 14 points, hitting a 3-pointer with 1:56 left for a 10-point lead.

Doncic has missed all three of the matches in the series with a strained calf, with signs pointing to his return for Game 4 on Saturday in Salt Lake City.

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Donovan Mitchell scored 28 of his 32 points in the second half for Utah. Bojan Bogdanovic added 24 and Mike Conley had 21. The Jazz had won 11 in a row at home versus Dallas.

Conley got the Jazz to 103-102, but Dinwiddie made two baskets and Brunson scored six points on three consecutive possessions to make it 113-104.

Brunson appeared to hurt his back midway through the second quarter when Royce O’Neale hit him full-speed from behind.

He moved gingerly, rubbed his lower back and earned a technical on his way off the court complaining about a cheap shot.

But he shook it off and toyed with Jazz on a variety of drives to the baskets against several different defenders. Brunson now has 96 points in the three games of the series.

Once the Jazz finally matched the Mavericks and played without a center, the court opened up for Utah. Mitchell (18) and Bogdanovic (12) scored at will in the third quarter against a leaky Dallas zone.

The Jazz made 14 of 18 shots and trimmed the lead to 97-91 entering the final period. The game was physical and chippy at times, featuring 60 fouls.

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Grizzlies rout Timberwolves 124-96 to tie series at 1 apiece

Ja Morant scored 23 points and handed out 10 assists as the Memphis Grizzlies looked much more like the team that posted the NBA’s second-best record, routing the Minnesota Timberwolves 124-96 on Tuesday night to even up their first-round Western Conference series at 1 apiece.

Morant went to the bench with 4:40 left to a huge ovation. He finished a rebound shy of a triple-double. Desmond Bane and Jaren Jackson Jr. each added 16 with Jackson hitting 4 of 7 from 3-point range as the Grizzlies set a franchise-record for largest margin of victory in the postseason.

Memphis coach Taylor Jenkins stated Morant was phenomenal along with the bench outscoring Minnesota 60-43. “This is our recipe …,” Jenkins said. “But this is the more the style that we got to play.”

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Seven Grizzlies ended in double figures with Brandon Clarke, Xavier Tillman Sr. and Ziaire Williams each having 13. Tyus Jones added 10.

Game 3 is Thursday night in Minneapolis.

Anthony Edwards, who scored 36 points in his playoff debut in Game 1, led Minnesota with 20. All-Star center Karl-Anthony Towns had 15 points and 11 rebounds. Naz Reid and Taurean Prince had 12 each off the bench, and D’Angelo Russell added 11.

The Timberwolves dominated the series opener after scoring a franchise-record 41 points in the first quarter.

This time, officials stayed very busy calling 20 fouls in a very long first quarter. That kept the NBA’s top scoring teams in the regular season from getting into any rhythm as they combined to shoot 33 free throws.

At one point, Memphis had Steven Adams, Jackson, Clarke and Dillon Brooks on the bench with two fouls. That forced coach Taylor Jenkins to turn to Tillman who didn’t play in Game 1, and he turned in the best playoff game of his young career.

The Grizzlies grabbed their biggest lead of this short series at 30-23 on a floater by Jones with 2:11 left, and they led 33-32 after the first quarter when Morant’s long buzzer-beater attempt hit off the rim and off.

“Then our offense just dried up. Our shot selection in the second quarter basically started the avalanche,” said Minnesota coach Chris Finch, who added that the Grizzlies also started controlling the glass. “That’s really where the game was won.”

Memphis started running in the second and opened the quarter with an 11-2 run and finished on an 11-5 run for a 60-49 lead at halftime with Morant not scoring a point. Patrick Beverley summed up Minnesota’s struggles when his layup before the buzzer rolled off the rim.

The Grizzlies pushed that lead to as much as 27 with a 25-9 run in the third, and Morant scored 12 in the quarter hitting 5 of 7 shots, including both 3-pointers.

His layup gave Memphis a 87-60 lead with 4:15 to go in the third, and the Grizzlies led 96-77 going into the fourth. Minnesota was the NBA’s best-shooting team outside the arc and outscored Memphis 48-21 in Game 1 as the Grizzlies shooting 26% outside the arc with only three knocking down a 3-pointer.

This time, Memphis shot 11-of-34 with six Grizzlies knocking down at least one.

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Boston Celtics’ Marcus Smart wins NBA Defensive Player of the Year award for first time

Boston Celtics guard Marcus Smart has been named NBA Defensive Player of the Year, the league announced Monday.

It’s the first DPOY award for Smart, who is the first guard to take home the honor since Gary Payton in the 1995-96 season. Payton was on hand at the Celtics practice facility Monday to give Smart the award.

In a social media post later Monday, Smart stated he was “blown away” by the honor.

Smart received 257 points (37 first-place votes) to finish first in voting. Forward Mikal Bridges of the Phoenix Suns (202 points, 22 first-place votes) and center Rudy Gobert of the Utah Jazz (136 points, 12 first-place votes) ended up second and third, respectively, in voting from a panel of 100 sportswriters and broadcasters.

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Smart concluded the season ranked seventh in the NBA in steals per game (1.68) for a Celtics team that led the league in defensive rating (106.2) and points allowed per game (104.5). He also was ranked fifth among all NBA guards with a defensive rating of 105.2, and was first in the league with 1.1 loose balls recovered per game.

Smart, who started each of the 71 regular-season games he played, also finished tied for 10th in deflections (106) and charges drawn (16) and had a career-high 3.2 defensive rebounds per game.

The eighth-year player is the second Celtic ever to win DPOY, joining Kevin Garnett (2007-08).

Big men have dominated the award since its inception in 1982. Smart and Payton are only the two point guards to have won it. Shooting guards have won it another five times, but none since Michael Jordan in 1988. And centers and forwards have won all the rest, including Gobert in 2018, 2019 and 2021.

Speaking last month, Smart said guards deserve more respect in the voting. “I’m not taking anything from the bigs,” he told ESPN.

“A vital part of the game is protecting the paint. But, as guards, we do a lot more before [our man] gets to the paint. … Contesting the 3, contesting pull-ups, making sure he doesn’t get to his spots.”

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Jayson Tatum’s layup at buzzer gives Boston Celtics win over Brooklyn Nets in Game 1 of first-round playoff series

Jayson Tatum has been adamant he didn’t view the Boston Celtics’ matchup with the Brooklyn Nets as a chance to prove anything opposite two of the league’s elite scorers.

His finish in Game 1 said otherwise.

Tatum made a layup at the buzzer on a pass from Marcus Smart to give Boston a dramatic 115-114 victory on Sunday in Game 1 of the first-round playoff series.

“When he took that dribble, we just kind of made eye contact,” Tatum said of Smart. “He made a great pass. It doesn’t get any better than that. A buzzer-beater in a playoff game at home.”

Tatum scored 31 points, the last two on the first buzzer-beater of his career. It was Boston’s first in the postseason since Paul Pierce’s in 2010 against the Miami Heat.

Tatum’s bucket came during a poised Boston possession in the frantic final seconds. After Kevin Durant missed on the other end, the Celtics rebounded and raced up the court, electing not to call a timeout.

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Jaylen Brown dribbled toward the middle and swung the ball out to Smart. He then fired it into a cutting Tatum, who spun around and dropped in his layup just before time expired.

“I’ve always been told you have more time than you realize you have,” Smart said. “I was about to throw it to Al [Horford] off the dribble, and I saw JT cut at the last minute.”

All five Celtics touched the ball on the possession.

“I think that’s kind of a microcosm for our season, guys moving the ball being unselfish,” Boston coach Ime Udoka stated.

Dating back to last postseason, Tatum has four consecutive 30-point games in the playoffs, matching Larry Bird in 1987 for the longest such streak in Celtics history.

Brown added 23 points. Horford had 20 points and 15 rebounds. And Smart finished with 20 points, including four 3-pointers.

Kyrie Irving put up 39 points, including 18 in the fourth quarter. But the Celtics forced the ball out of his hands the last time Brooklyn had it, and Durant missed a jumper with a one-point lead that set up the Celtics’ final possession.

Durant added 23 points but shot just 9-of-24.

“They did a good job of forcing me away, then helping in the paint,” Durant said. “I just got to be more fundamental in my moves. I feel like some shots went in and out for me.”

Boston charged out of halftime with a 23-8 run to open a 82-69 lead, sparked by Smart’s deadeye shooting from beyond the arc.

The Celtics also seemed to tweak their approach to guarding Durant in the half court, fronting him and sending help over the top to limit his driving ability.

Durant and Irving still found ways to score, but they had to exert increased energy to get off their attempts.

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Young, Hunter lead Hawks to 132-103 play-in rout of Hornets

For one night, at least, the Atlanta Hawks looked like the team that made a stunning run to the Eastern Conference final last summer.

Trae Young bounced back from a sluggish start to score 24 points and De’Andre Hunter led a third-quarter surge Wednesday that carried the Hawks to a 132-103 rout of the Charlotte Hornets in a play-in game.

“We’re definitely confident right now,” Hunter said. “But we’ve got a lot more work to do. We’re not satisfied yet.”

The Hawks were a bit of a disappointment during the regular season, concluding ninth in the East after their surprising playoff success in 2021.

They’ve still got to win one more play-in game just to make the playoffs, heading 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.

Still, coach James Borrego called it another step forward for a rebuilding team. “A lot of good things have happened for this franchise based on where we’re at today compared to where we were two or three years ago,” he stated.

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Miles Bridges was ejected in the fourth quarter and could be facing additional punishment from the league office after he appeared to strike a young fan with his mouthpiece.

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.

“I think I’m a big part of this team,” Hunter said. ”Me being aggressive, scoring and defending, helps this team a lot.”

Hunter ended 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 opportunity to win a couple of play-in games on the road. But those hopes came crashing down versus their I-85 rival.

LaMelo Ball led Charlotte with 26 points on 7-of-25 shooting.

The Hawks led by 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.

“It’s great for my team,'” said Young, who had 11 assists. “If you can make two guys guard you, it only opens up the floor for everybody else. I have to embrace it.”

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.

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