Trae Young didn't have his best night.
It didn't matter. The Atlanta Hawks will live to see at least one more game.
All five Hawks starters scored in double figures, led by Young's 24 points, as they scored a 132-103 blowout win over the Charlotte Hornets in the 2022 NBA play-in tournament on Wednesday.
Atlanta will play the Cleveland Cavaliers on Friday to determine the Eastern Conference's No. 8 seed.
The Hawks led by just eight at halftime but busted the game open during a 42-point third quarter that saw Young finally catch fire after a 3-of-15 first half.
Clint Capela finished with a monster 15-point, 17-rebound double-double, while De'Andre Hunter put up an efficient 22 points and seven rebounds.
For the second straight year, LaMelo Ball's season ends with a disappointing performance in the play-in. Ball finished with 26 points, seven assists and five rebounds but made just seven of his 25 shots. In his two tastes of near-playoff action, Ball has shot 11-of-39 from the field.
G LaMelo Ball: 26 points, 8 assists, 5 rebounds, 1 steal
G Terry Rozier: 21 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists
F P.J. Washington: 17 points, 6 rebounds, 2 assists
G Trae Young: 24 points, 11 assists, 3 rebounds, 1 steal, 1 block
F De'Andre Hunter: 22 points, 7 rebounds, 2 assists
C Clint Capela: 15 points, 17 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 blocks, 2 steals
So...the Hornets Might Need Some Defensive Help
The Hawks didn't even play particularly well for an entire half of basketball. Young was all over the place, attempting a series of YOLO shots and floaters that clanked off the rim. This was a very winnable game...right until the Hornets came out in the second half and laid a complete defensive egg.
Charlotte looked like a team that hadn't played basketball together for 82 minutes, let alone 82 games. Rotations were busted. Effort was lackadaisical. If you squinted enough, you could see the reflection of Cancun in their eyes once Young got hot.
The Hornets have the core of their offense figured out. They finished eighth in offensive efficiency during the regular season, per NBA.com, and have a group of young players who should only continue growing together. Gordon Hayward lifts them to another level if he can actually keep himself on the court.
Defensively? Man, an overhauling is in order.
Ball's never going to be a great defender. It was the biggest knock on him in the predraft process, and his effort is intermittent. Maybe he gets better as he matures, but he's caught sleeping and lurching out of position for steals too often to be relied upon.
Neither Terry Rozier nor Miles Bridges is a stopper. Rozier's under contract through 2025-26, and the Hornets will probably max out Bridges this offseason.
Free agency isn't likely to solve the issue with Charlotte's spending limited, but if you're looking for the No. 1 Rudy Gobert trade team, it's right here. Gobert is spectacular enough on the defensive end to fix the leaky perimeter, and he might get a few extra lobs thrown his way playing in an offense with Ball.
Pressure on Hawks Headed to Cleveland
The Hawks should be a playoff team. They were one of the most disappointing teams of the regular season before catching fire heading into the play-in, a run that included a 24-point win over the Cavs on March 31.
Cleveland has been fading fast, losing eight of its last 11 games before the end of the regular season. Jarrett Allen, who has been out since March 6 with a finger injury, could return Friday, but Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com categorized it as a 50-50 proposition.
The Hawks are a hotter, more experienced, better all-around team with a 3-1 record against the Cavs this season. Even with Young putting together one of his most manic shooting performances of the season, Atlanta saw the rest of its role players step up and look like the team that made a shocking run to the Eastern Conference Finals a year ago.
It's a game they should win.
That said, the Cavs are going to have a rocking home-court advantage with a Cleveland crowd desperate for a playoff appearance. The franchise hasn't gone to the postseason without the help of LeBron James since 1997-98. Five years of failure before his arrival. Four years of failure after his first departure. And, now, the chance to break three years of failure after James' second departure.
The Minnesota crowd helped spur a young Timberwolves team to a win over the veteran-laden Los Angeles Clippers on Tuesday. We'll have to see if the collegiate atmosphere coming in Cleveland plays a factor again Friday night.