CLEVELAND (AP) — When the final horn sounded and Trae Young’s work was done, he slammed the ball off the floor, sending it spinning skyward. He then turned and waved goodbye to the Cleveland fans retreating to the the exits.
Young scored 32 of his 38 points in the second half and the Atlanta Hawks overcame losing center Clint Capela to a knee injury to beat the Cavaliers 107-101 in the play-in on Friday night and earn the Eastern Conference’s No. 8 playoff seed.
Young started slowly for the second straight game, but the All-Star with the chilly nickname for his ability to take over games with one of the NBA’s deadliest shooting strokes heated up when it mattered most.
“He made shots from the jump circle,” marveled Cavs coach J.B. Bickerstaff.
Young scored 16 points in 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 throughout 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 took care of business,” Young said. “It’s a testament to our team that we kept fighting and finished the job.”
The Hawks, who made it to the conference finals a year ago, may have to go forward without Capela. The 6-foot-10 center hyperextended his right knee late in the first half, had to be helped from the floor and couldn’t return. He will have an MRI exam in Miami.
Capela’s loss 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 their season alive.
“Trae has a great deal of confidence in his game, his ability and he continued to believe,” Hawks coach Nate McMillan said. “I didn’t see any panic in his play. He came out in the second half, remained aggressive. Those shots started to fall, the same shots that he was taking the first half, they started to fall in the second half.”
Lauri Markkanen scored 26 and Darius Garland 21 for the young Cavaliers, whose unexpected season fell just shy of a playoff berth.
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 emoji of an ice cube in the closing seconds — a nod to Young — as the Hawks were ending Cleveland’s turnaround season.
Lifted by a rowdy, towel-waving crowd in Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse, the Cavs were in position to advance and played well in long stretches. However, Cleveland’s offense bogged down in the third quarter, and the Cavs had no answer defensively for Young.
“The ball wasn’t popping and there was a lot of isolation and standing still,” Bickerstaff said of his team’s troubles after halftime.
The Cleveland fans who stayed until the end saluted the Cavs, who weren’t expected to get this far after winning just 22 games last season. While they’ve been relegated to lottery picks and losing since James left after a four-year run to the NBA Finals four years ago, the future in Cleveland is bright.
“We’re headed in the right direction, for sure,” Bickerstaff said. “We accomplished a lot this year.”
With the season on the line, Cleveland got a huge emotional and defensive lift by 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 heated up.
Ignoring some vulgar chants by Cleveland fans, the dazzling guard made a pair of 3-pointers and scored Atlanta’s final 12 points in the quarter as the Hawks closed with a 17-8 run over the final 3:48 to tie it 84-all going into to the final 12 minutes.
In the fourth, Young answered every Cleveland run with one of his own, knocking down floaters or getting to the rim for layups, like the Hawks have seem him do so many times before.
“That’s why he gets paid the big bucks.” De’Andre Hunter said.
Hawks: 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) both sat out. … 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 made a 24-game jump.
It was an extraordinary sports night — and another sad one — in Cleveland.
While the Hawks and Cavaliers tangled with a postseason spot up for grabs, the Guardians played their first home game since changing their name next door at Progressive Field.
The doubleheader was reminiscent of 2016, when the Cavs received the NBA title rings on opening night as Cleveland’s baseball team, then called the Indians, hosted a World Series game.
Hawks: Atlanta went 1-3 vs. Miami during the season.
Cavaliers: More time to rest up after an injury-ravaged season.
More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/hub/nba and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports
Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.