Team Effort Defeats Cavaliers

Onyeka Okongwu
Jeff Haynes/NBAE/Getty Images

By KL Chouinard

When Clint Capela went down with a hyperextended right knee in the final minute of the first half with the Hawks trailing the Cleveland Cavaliers by ten points, the Hawks' prognosis dimmed considerably.

In the second half, the Hawks needed a little extra something from somebody. Onyeka Okongwu gave it to them.

"As a brotherhood, I just wanted to take care of his duties," Okongwu said of Capela.

Okongwu made a key defensive play in the final minute of the Hawks' 107-101 win over the Cavaliers in the Play-In Tournament, a win that secured their spot in the Eastern Conference Playoffs. With the Hawks up by 3 with 55 seconds left, Okongwu flashed into the lane to show help against a driving Caris LeVert. Then, when LeVert opted to throw an alley-oop to Evan Mobley, Okongwu slid over, got up above the rim, slapped the oop away, and collected the steal.

Okongwu finished with 2 points, but that steal, along with his 9 rebounds and overall defensive impact loomed large in the outcome against a tall and stout Cleveland front line.

Okongwu wasn't alone. The Hawks got a little bit more from Kevin Huerter, who sealed the win by stealing a Cleveland outlet pass with 26 seconds left in a one-possession game. They got a little bit more from Delon Wright, who played smothering on-ball defense in the second-half that helped grind Cleveland's offense to a standstill. 

The Hawks also got a lot more from Trae Young.

Trae played a nearly flawless second half against the Cavaliers: 32 points on 10-14 shooting from the field, 5 assists, 4 threes, 0 turnovers. He scored 12 points in the final 1:58 of the third quarter to tie the game headed into the final quarter. When Cleveland's switching defense repeatedly shifted a big man onto Trae in a one-on-one matchup, Trae repeatedly found a way to take advantage of it.

Additionally, Trae set a tone with this snatchback three from the Cleveland logo that sent his defender reeling. The Hawks were not going away quietly into the Cleveland night.

"That's why he gets paid the big bucks," Wright said of Trae. "That's what he does. He's a big-time player."

Bogdan Bogdanovic scored 19 points. He and Clint Capela kept the Hawks within striking distance in the first half: Bogdanovic with his shooting and Capela with his defense and offensive rebounds. 

After the game the Hawks announced that Capela will have an MRI on his knee Saturday.

With the win, the Hawks advance to a seven-game series against the top-seeded Miami Heat in a first-round series that begins Sunday at 1:00 PM ET. Officially, that game will begin the Hawks' postseason, as the games from the Play-In Tournament do not count as playoff games. 

As a result, the Hawks remain 0-12 in franchise history against the Cavaliers in the playoffs. LeBron James led Cleveland to sweeps of the Hawks in 2009, 2015, and 2016. But for one night in 2022, in a game played after the conclusion of the regular season, the Hawks had the best player on the floor in a win-or-go-home game.

And Trae Young won it. Make it 0-12* with an asterisk.

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