Hornets drop seventh straight game in 125-106 loss to Hawks

Atlanta Hawks forward Onyeka Okongwu (17) drives into the defense of Charlotte Hornets guard LaMelo Ball (1) during the first half of an NBA basketball game Friday, Dec. 16, 2022, in Charlotte, N.C. (AP Photo/Rusty Jones)

CHARLOTTE — On Friday night, the Charlotte Hornets trimmed a 24-point Atlanta lead down to just four points before the Hawks roared back with a strong fourth quarter for a 124-106 win in the Spectrum Center.

The free-falling Hornets (7-22) have now lost seven games in a row and are in sole ownership of the worst record in the NBA.

Trae Young (31 pts) and Bogdan Bogdanovic (28 pts) combined to go 17-of-31 from the floor and nine-of-15 from three-point range, pacing Atlanta (15-15) past Charlotte’s 16-2 run in the third quarter.

In LaMelo Ball’s second game from an injury, he recorded a 19-point first half and finished with 27 points, knocking down seven-of-13 shots from deep. Gordon Hayward joined Ball as a newcomer to the lineup in his first game back from his own injury, although he was limited to just nine points and five assists.

“We did a lot of good things. We played with a lot of purpose,” Hornets coach Steve Clifford said after the game. “Obviously, having Gordon back helps a lot and you can see that with Melo too. It’s going to take a few games for them to get their conditioning and their rhythm and everything.”

Atlanta was nearly unstoppable in the first half of play as Young, Bogdanovic and former Duke Blue Devil AJ Griffin diced up Charlotte’s defensive efforts. 

Griffin is one of three Hawks bench players to score at least 11 points in the game, joining former Hornet Frank Kaminsky and Aaron Holiday. Coasting on 63% first-half shooting, the Hawks entered halftime with a 75-59 lead. 

While Charlotte ultimately fell flat in the fourth quarter — deflating the momentum of their valiant comeback attempt — the Hornets defense did bolster up compared to its initial showing.

“Even in the first quarter, we didn’t score offensively, but we got good shots, the ball was moving. I thought we had good energy,” Clifford said. “The first three quarters, our offense was good. It’s just the fouling. Those are fouls. We’ve got to stop. We’ve lost a few games, we’ve got the turnover thing, we’re a lot more consistent now and we’re not turning it over as much, that cost us. We’re minus-15 at the free-throw line, it’s hard to win.…every time those guys are driving and you’re slapping down and stuff, it makes it hard to win.”

Terry Rozier had a quiet night for Charlotte with just ten points — just half of his season average. 

Kelly Oubre Jr, adjusting to a non-starting role with Ball and Hayward back in the fold, picked up 16 points off the bench but made just five out of his 19 shots. P.J. Washington (personal) was a late scratch for the game, allowing Jalen McDaniels an open spot in the starting lineup.

The Hornets will have their next chance to throw water onto their season’s fire on Sunday night as they head over to Denver for a bout with the Nuggets (17-11).