Hawks cool down Heat, Lakers survive Timberwolves in 1st day of NBA Play-In tourney

Trae Young leads Atlanta against the Heat on the first day of the NBA Play-In tourney (Atlanta Hawks photo)

By Leobert Julian A. de la Peña

Trae Young and the Atlanta Hawks clinch an early ticket to the Eastern Conference playoffs after torching the Miami Heat on their home floor, 116-105, while the Los Angeles Lakers completed a come-from-behind victory to formally clinch the seventh seed in the West, 108-102, during the first day of the 2023 NBA Play-In tournament last April 12, 2023.

Facing a hostile crowd at the Kaseya Center, the battle-tested Hawks immediately took away Miami’s home-court advantage when they opened up a double-digit lead early in the first half.

Young, who was statistically struggling against the tough Miami defense all season long, showed different dimensions of his game and fed his teammates for some early points.

Atlanta’s uber-efficient offense in the first 12 minutes of the duel resulted in 36 first-quarter points, one of the most points allowed by the Heat defense since the regular season.

Miami then responded midway through the second quarter and finally had their grip on the free-flowing offense of the Hawks when Bam Adebayo and Jimmy Butler started to lock up the perimeter to prevent any easy executions from Young.

Aside from their constant communication when Young involved Clint Capela in the pick-and-roll, the duo started to play physically and bullied whoever attempted to drive down the lane for easy deuces.

Miami’s relentlessness defensively paid off after they trimmed Atlanta’s 23-point lead to just five points in the third quarter.

Kyle Lowry, one of the veteran members of the Heat, came alive offensively and hit timely three-pointers during that fiery run.

Just when Miami thought they could win the game defensively, Atlanta had other plans heading into the fourth as their offensive rebounding started to kill the Heat which allowed tons of second-chance points.

Despite Butler and Lowry putting up buckets for the Heat, Atlanta also had the firepower to match as the trio of Dejounte Murray, Bogdan Bogdanovic, and Young played well in the last six minutes to keep their lead intact and prevent any collapse.

With the win, the Hawks officially grabbed the Eastern Conference’s seventh spot and will set up a first-round playoff matchup against Jayson Tatum and the Boston Celtics.

Meanwhile, in the Western Conference, the Lakers got out of a double-digit hole to stun Minnesota for the seventh seed.

Despite a consistent shooting from downtown, the Timberwolves failed to sustain their momentum in the second half and got outscored by the Lakers 59-42, in the last two quarters up to the overtime period.

The Lakers were seconds away from winning the game but Anthony Davis’ costly foul on Mike Conley allowed Minnesota to force an extra period which Los Angeles dominated, 10-4.

LeBron James top-scored for Los Angeles, putting up 30 big points alongside 10 rebounds and six assists while Anthony Davis chipped in 24 points, 15 rebounds, four assists, and three blocks.

Dennis Schroder, the hero of the game who drained the dagger trey before Conley knocked down all of his free throws, contributed 21 markers and four boards.

With the Lakers officially clinching the seventh spot, they will be squaring off against Ja Morant and the Memphis Grizzlies in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs.