The Atlanta Hawks came one step closer to securing a berth in the 2022 NBA playoffs after dominating the Charlotte Hornets Wednesday night at State Farm Arena with a score of 132-103. The Hawks were ahead, basically, all evening before the game really opened during the third quarter and created a deficit that the Hornets couldn’t overcome.
While Trae Young led the attack on the Hawks’ offensive end with 24 points and 11 assists, Atlanta received contributions from both the top and bottom of their roster with six players, in total, scoring in double figures in the win. LaMelo Ball finished with 24 points for the Hornets, but in a somewhat ineffective fashion, it took 25 attempted shots to get there.
Now, we’ll see which team can come out on top on Friday night when the Hawks and Cavaliers meet for the right to face the Miami Heat. Here are the top three points from tonight’s game.
1. Tra Young Ho Defense Guide
Trae Young shot 3 of 13 from the field in the first half. It was the kind of performance that couldn’t be fathomed by a score box. Even with Young’s shots gone, Hawks kept scoring. They had 60 in the first half precisely because of all the extra attention that Charlotte Leung gave. They picked him up in half the field and cornered him from the screens, but since Young is such a dynamic passer and can shoot from distance behind the line, all of those tactics were opening things up for his teammates. They threw a half star.
So the Hornets dimmed a bit per second, switching more screens. The poor senior Choi Young put Charlotte on the ground to chase them from there, this time by defeating the top scorer as did Kamar. The Hawks scored 132 points in the game and won in Young’s minutes with 27 points.
This is the level that Young has climbed to in the big matches. The Knicks, Bucks, and Sixers saw it in last year’s playoffs. There is no defense you can use against it that will not consistently result in a good attack by a hawk. Drop and he will hit you with float after float. Go down and climb up to get the 3s logo. Play really hard and throw free throws. Even Philadelphia, with Ben Simmons and Matisse Thibault to throw it into conventional defenses, couldn’t stop him entirely.
This is the highest level of playoff attack, and it is the level reserved for the best shot makers in basketball. At a given time, there are usually only three or four players in basketball who are defensive in this way. LeBron James and James Harden have been there for years. Stephen Curry might still be. Luka Doncic and Trae Young are up to that point now and should be there for a while. If The Hawks can give Young the right teammates, there’s no reason why they can’t score like this for years to come.
2. LaMelo LaBusts
A year ago, the LaMelo Ball shot 4 of 14 in a play loss to the Pacers. Tonight, he shot 7 of 25 in a play loss to the Hawks. Now, this is a sample of two games. It’s not particularly meaningful in the grand scheme of things, and as the Hornets progress and discover the menu around him, he’ll have plenty of big games to prove himself in. It’s too early to question its suitability for high leverage positions.
But what we can say more specifically is that Ball lacks Young’s undeniability. He’s not the type to look at any defense the opponent throws and confront him immediately. This is the All-Star who scored 16 times with singles digits in two seasons in the NBA. He’s clearly nowhere near his prime, but he’s not the kind of solo that most teams tend to prefer from their star guards. He’s more of a streaming player, a transition killer who can work within an attack but hasn’t yet figured out how to own him the way Young does.
There is no reason to believe that he cannot. He’s only in his second season, after all, and while he’s not quite the smooth pick-and-roll operator like Young, he shares Young’s passing vision and amazing shooting range. The pieces are there, but like his brother, he’s an inconsistent end player and mid-range worker who prefers to keep the ball moving. This is fine in the regular season. It’s something he’ll have to work on beyond the season if he’s the type to lead his team on a deep run.
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3. Will the Hornets find a position?
At this point, we should all feel bad for James Borrego. This guy Rob Goldberg has been working his way up to semi-decent defenses for years with nothing but 6-7 positions and unconcerned goalkeepers, and finally, that approach looks to be done. Mason Plumlee and Montrezl Harrell have been disappointing pole positions this year, but throughout Borrego’s entire run, Hornets have failed to give him a single proper rim guard.
That kills them in this game as it has for most of the season. The Hawks had an easy dribbling penetration for most of the first half, and used it to kick the ball to the bowlers. When the Hornets stayed home on these second-half bowlers, the Hawks got all the throws and dunks they wanted. This can be prevented with the right bulky guy. It was time for the Hornets to go out and find one.
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