CLEVELAND (AP) — When the final buzzer sounded and Trae Young’s job was done, he slammed the ball into the ground and sent it spinning skyward. She then turned and waved goodbye to the Cleveland fans retiring to the exits.
Ice Trae stings again.
Young scored 32 of his 38 points in the second half and the Atlanta Hawks outpointed losing center Clint Capela with a knee injury to beat the Cavaliers 107-101 in the play-in on Friday night and earn the eighth seed. Eastern Conference playoffs.
Young started off slow for the second game in a row, but the All-Star nicknamed cold for his ability to dominate games with one of the NBA’s deadliest shooting blows got hot when it mattered most.
“He made jump circle shots,” Cavs coach JB Bickerstaff marveled.
Young scored 16 points in the third quarter to rally the Hawks from a 10-point halftime deficit, and added another 16 in the fourth to finish off the Cavs, whose inexperience showed through the second half.
Bogdan Bogdanovic added 19 points for Atlanta, which will play No. 1 seed Miami in the first round. Game 1 is Sunday in South Florida.
“We take care of business,” Young said. “It’s a testament to our team that we kept fighting and got the job done.”
The Hawks, who reached the conference finals a year ago, may have to move on without Capela. The 6-foot-10 center hyperextended his right knee late in the first half, had to be helped off the ground and was unable to return.
The loss of Capela forced all of the Hawks to step up, especially on the boards. But it was Young, making 10 of his last 14 shots, who kept the season alive.
“Trae is very confident in his game, his ability and he continues to believe,” Hawks coach Nate McMillan said. “I didn’t see any panic in his game. He came out in the second half, he stayed aggressive. Those shots started to drop, the same shots he was making in the first half, they started to drop in the second half.”
Lauri Markkanen scored 26 and Darius Garland 21 for the young Cavaliers, whose unexpected season narrowly missed a playoff spot.
Cleveland hasn’t been to the playoffs since 2018, and the Cavs haven’t been to the postseason without LeBron James on their roster since 1998.
As if to add insult to injury, James tweeted an ice cube emoji in the closing seconds, a nod to Young, as the Hawks were wrapping up their trade season from Cleveland.
Buoyed by a rowdy towel-waving crowd at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse, the Cavs were in position to move forward and played well over long stretches. However, Cleveland’s offense stalled in the third quarter and the Cavs had no defensive answer for Young.
“The ball wasn’t bouncing and there was a lot of isolation and standing still,” Bickerstaff said of his team’s struggles after halftime.
Cleveland fans who stayed until the end saluted the Cavs, who weren’t expected to go this far after winning just 22 games last season. While they have been relegated to lottery picks and losses since James left after a four-year run to the NBA Finals four years ago, the future in Cleveland is bright.
“We’re going in the right direction for sure,” Bickerstaff said. “We accomplished a lot this year.”
With the season on the line, Cleveland received a huge emotional and defensive boost with the return of All-Star center Jarrett Allen, who had missed the previous 19 games with a broken finger on his left hand. Allen finished with 11 points.
The Hawks were in big trouble late in the third quarter when Young finally warmed up.
Ignoring some vulgar chants from the Cleveland fans, the dazzling guard made a pair of 3-pointers and scored Atlanta’s last 12 points in the fourth as the Hawks closed out on a 17-8 run in the final 3:48 to draw 84-84. up to the last 12 minutes.
In the fourth, Young responded to each Cleveland run with one of his own, knocking down float shots or reaching the rim for layups, as the Hawks seem to have done so many times before.
“That’s why they pay him a lot of money.” De’Andre Hunter said.
Falcons: Danilo Gallinari added 14 points. … Young averaged 32.5 points in four games against Cleveland in the regular season. … F/C John Collins (finger, foot) and Lou Williams (back) were left out. … He committed a league-low 11.9 turnovers per game during the regular season.
Cavaliers: Kevin Love only played 10 minutes, one in the second half. … Cleveland’s 22-win improvement was the second-biggest in club history. The 1991-92 Cavs jumped 24 games.
It was an extraordinary sports night, and a sad one, in Cleveland.
As the Hawks and Cavaliers tangled with a postseason spot at stake, the Guardians played their first home game since changing their name to the side at Progressive Field.
The doubleheader was reminiscent of 2016, when the Cavs received the NBA title rings on opening night when Cleveland’s baseball team, then called the Indians, hosted a World Series game.
UNTIL NEXT TIME
Hawks: Atlanta went 1-3 against Miami during the season.
Cavaliers: More time to rest after an injury-ravaged season.
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