ATLANTA — Atlanta Hawks coach Nate McMillan has come under some criticism from his coaching staff — as well as some fans on social media — for having key players on the field with just over five minutes remaining in Wednesday night’s 132-103 win. Charlotte Hornets.
“The coaches were yelling and yelling at me, ‘Get the guys out so we can comfort them,’” MacMillan said with a smile. But it’s time to play. It’s match time. We have to be ready when we go to Cleveland.”
Atlanta plays the Cleveland Cavaliers on Friday, as the winner advances to the Eastern Conference playoffs as the eighth seed against No. 1 seed Miami.
If the Hawks play hard and aggressive in the third quarter on Wednesday, they could be preparing for their second straight round in the Conference Finals, where the Milwaukee Bucks eliminated them last year in six games.
Hunter had 22 points, including 16 in the third quarter when the Atlanta outperformed the Hornets 42-24. Capella finished with 15 points and 17 rebounds. Both also played just about 30 minutes in a game led by Atlanta with a 26-point lead to enter the final quarter.
“If they both play well in defense, they’re going to be tough,” Bridges said. “They did a great job that last year, which is why they’ve made it so far.”
Hunter in particular gave the Falcons the boost they needed while guarding the stars Tra Young Struggling from the field. Young made three out of 13 field shooting attempts in the first half and finished 8 goals against 24.
“Being aggressive and helping this team score helps this team a lot,” Hunter said.
Hunter’s scoring and defense caused problems for Bridges, who was sent off with 6:39 left after losing his temper while complaining about a call in toward the goal. Bridges’ frustration grew to the point where he threw his mouth piece at a young fan who taunted him as he headed toward the locker room.
“I usually don’t allow my emotions to take over the best of me,” he said. “For me to be in one of the biggest matches I’ve played in and that’s happening, that’s just not acceptable for me.”
The frustration was an appreciation for how well Hunter and Hawks played on both ends. They were in such a flow that it’s easy to see why MacMillan left the freshmen for longer than his assistants wanted with Cleveland and then perhaps the upcoming playoffs.
But it is this aggressiveness that the Hawks continued to display with the big lead that Macmillan had to love.
“When we get the lead, we get, like a coach [sometimes] Capella said, ineffective. “We need to keep playing at the highest level.”
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