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The Hornets Had Another Play-In Meltdown

ATLANTA, GA - APRIL 13: Miles Bridges #0 of the Charlotte Hornets is restrained after a foul is called and he is ejected during the second half against the Atlanta Hawks at State Farm Arena on April 13, 2022 in Atlanta, Georgia. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Miles Bridges
Todd Kirkland/Getty Images

The Hornets traveled down to Atlanta on Wednesday night to participate in the eliminator play-in and end their season via ass-whooping delivered by an extremely frisky Hawks team, a familiar outcome that has the potential to turn into something of an annual tradition. Last season, Charlotte spotted the Pacers 144 points and lost by 27 points in the 9-10 play-in game; this year, they outdid themselves and lost to Atlanta, 132-103. If trends hold, current projections have them losing to the Pistons by 31 next season. The Hornets are reasonably young and reasonably cool and there are plenty of reasons to like them, though last night was a pretty ugly reminder of how far they have to go to find themselves among the Eastern Conference elite. I am referring here specifically to the on- and then off-court plight of Charlotte’s second-best player, Miles Bridges.

We will begin with the end of Bridges’s night, when he was ejected after arguing a goaltending call with the Hornets trailing by 31 halfway through the fourth quarter. Bridges, who was minus-30 on the night, was promptly issued a pair of technical fouls. Montrezl Harrell was guiding him into the tunnel and towards the locker room when Bridges, harangued by a gleeful Atlanta crowd and a particular giddy person in a yellow hat, snapped and whipped his mouthpiece towards the yellow hat wearer, only to dome a teenager. To her credit, the 16-year-old tanked the hit no problem.

If for some reason you’re like, I want a close-up view of the mouthguard please, well, this Charlotte Observer guy has you covered.

To his credit, Bridges apologized profusely after the game. “I was aiming for the guy that was screaming at me and it hit a little girl,” Bridges said. “So that’s definitely unacceptable on my part and I take full responsibility.” He also tweeted out a request for her information so he could apologize and attempt to make amends, which is nice.

It is worth detailing the horrid Hornets performance that led to Bridges getting so heated. Charlotte and Atlanta seemed primed for a fun matchup, as both teams sported top-10 offenses (Atlanta in second and Charlotte in ninth) and bottom-10 defenses (26th and 23rd) on the season. Instead, the Hawks’ superior physicality helped them stymie the Hornets—LaMelo Ball and Terry Rozier shot a combined 15-for-47—and impose their will on the glass, where the Hornets have nobody who can remotely hang with Clint Capela. Bridges had a team-worst +/-, just four meager rebounds, and 12 points.

In any conversation about trades and team needs and possible roster shake-ups, the Hornets center spot is mentioned with good reason, as it’s the single most obviously rotten position on any team worth a shit in the entire NBA. Mason Plumlee managed 11 minutes last night, while Harrell is 6-foot-7 and doesn’t do much besides score inside against backups, which is important, but not really something Charlotte is desperate for.

After the game, James Borrego defended his team’s strategy of blitzing Trae Young pick-and-rolls, which was a pretty crippling strategic decision. The Hawks are built specifically to prevent teams from effectively doubling Young off the pick-and-roll, as Kevin Huerter, DeAndre Hunter, and Bogdan Bogdanovic led a cadre of eager shooters who took advantage of all the four-on-threes the Hornets ceded them. Young struggled early, but all he needed was one good burst, and he helped the Hawks slam the door shut with a 31-13 run in the third quarter where his team scored on 14 straight possessions. I suppose if your corps of one-on-one defenders is led by, I dunno, Kelly Oubre, you can’t have it all, but Charlotte set themselves up to get owned and the Hawks obliged. They’ll have to work out their Gordon Hayward and nobody-taller-than-6-foot-10-can-do-anything situations in the offseason, but Ball is a superstar in the making and Bridges took a leap this year (managing to not overpay for Bridges will also be tricky). If Atlanta is lucky, they’ll beat Cleveland to earn a date with the opposite of the Hornets (Miami) and learn what it’s like when an opponent can defend everything. Their best shot at a victory might involve leaning on yellow hat man to poke at the Heat’s internecine over-intensity.