Hawks vs. Hornets score, takeaways: Atlanta advances to face Cleveland for No. 8 seed after dominating win

The Atlanta Hawks are one step closer to securing a berth in the 2022 NBA Playoffs after dominating the Charlotte Hornets on Wednesday night at State Farm Arena by a score of 132-103. The Hawks were ahead for, essentially, the entire evening before really opening the game up during the third quarter and creating a deficit that the Hornets just couldn’t come close to overcoming.

While Trae Young led the charge on the offensive end for the Hawks with 24 points and 11 assists, Atlanta received contributions from up and down their roster as six players, in total, scored in double figures in the win. LaMelo Ball finished with a team-high 24 points for the Hornets but, in a rather inefficient manner, it took him 25 shot attempts to get there.

Now, we will 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 three biggest takeaways from tonight’s game.

1. Trae Young is defense-proof

Trae Young shot 3-of-13 from the field in the first half. It was the sort of performance that could not be understood through a box score. Even as Young’s shots kept missing, the Hawks kept scoring. They had 60 in the first half precisely because of all of the extra attention Charlotte gave to Young. They picked him up at half court and trapped him off of screens, but because Young is such a dynamic passer and can shoot from so far behind the line, all those tactics did was open things up for his teammates. They delivered with a stellar half.

So the Hornets eased up a bit in the second, switching more screens. Young roasted the poor bigs Charlotte put on the floor for him to hunt from there, this time beating them as much as a scorer as he did as a pass. The Hawks scored 132 points in the game and won Young’s minutes by 27 points.

This is the level Young has ascended to in big games. The Knicks, Bucks and Sixers saw it in last year’s playoffs. There’s no defense you can use against him that won’t consistently lead to good offense for the Hawks. Drop and he’ll hit you with floater after floater. Go under and he’ll go up for logo 3s. Play too aggressively and he’ll rack up free throws. Even Philadelphia, with Ben Simmons and Matisse Thybulle to throw at him in more conventional defenses, couldn’t stop him outright.

This is the highest level of playoff offense, the one reserved for only the best shot-creators in basketball. At a given time, there are usually only three or four players in basketball who are defense-proof in this way. LeBron James and James Harden were there for years. Stephen Curry might still be. Luka Doncic and Trae Young have ascended to that point now and should be there for quite some time. If the Hawks can give Young the right teammates, there’s no reason they shouldn’t be able to score like this for years to come.

2. LaMelo LaBusts

A year ago, LaMelo Ball shot 4-of-14 in a blowout play-in loss to the Pacers. Tonight, he shot 7-of-25 in a blowout play-in loss to the Hawks. Now, this is a two-game sample. It’s not especially meaningful in the grand scheme of things, and as the Hornets progress and figure out the roster around him, he’s going to have plenty more big games to prove himself in. It’s far too early to wonder about his fit in high-leverage situations.

But what we can say much more definitively is that Ball lacks Young’s undeniability. He is not the sort of player who can look at any defense an opponent throws at him and immediately have a counter. This is an All-Star who has scored in single digits 16 times in his two NBA seasons. He obviously isn’t close to his prime, but he’s not the sort of singular creator most teams tend to prefer out of their star point guards. He is more of a flow player, a killer in transition that can function within an offense but hasn’t yet figured out how to own it in the way that Young does.

There’s no reason to believe that he can’t. He’s only in his second season, after all, and while he’s not the smooth pick-and-roll operator that Young is, he shares Young’s incredible passing vision and shooting range. The pieces are there, but like his brother, he’s an inconsistent finisher and mid-range operator who prefers to keep the ball moving. That’s fine in the regular season. It’s something he’s going to have to work on for the postseason if he’s going to be the sort of player who can lead his team on a deep run.

3. Will the Hornets please find a center?

At this point, we should all just feel bad for James Borrego. This man has been Rube Goldberging his way into half-decent defenses for years with nothing but 6-7 centers and disinterested guards, and finally, that approach has seemingly run its course. Mason Plumlee and Montrezl Harrell were the underwhelming centers this year, but for Borrego’s entire tenure the Hornets have failed to give him a single adequate rim-protector.

That killed them in this game as it has for most of the season. The Hawks got easy dribble penetration for most of the first half, and they used it to kick the ball out to shooters. When the Hornets stayed at home on those shooters in the second half, the Hawks got all of the layups and dunks they wanted. This is preventable with the right big man. It’s about time the Hornets went out and found one.

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