Trae Young scored 11 of his 36 points in the final two minutes Saturday as the Atlanta Hawks withstood a career-high 55 points from Brooklyn star Kevin Durant in a 122-115 NBA victory over the Nets.
The Hawks grabbed their fifth straight win to move into eighth place in the Eastern Conference, a game ahead of the Nets and the Charlotte Hornets, who were routed 144-114 by the Philadelphia 76ers earlier in the day.
All three are jockeying for position in the play-in tournament, in which the teams place seventh to 10th in each conference will battle for the final two berths in the playoffs proper.
The Nets’ second straight defeat ended the star-studded Brooklyn team’s hopes of escaping the play-in and earning one of the top six seeds that will advance directly to the playoffs.
Kyrie Irving scored 31 points, but with Goran Dragic sidelined by Covid concerns, Bruce Brown out with flu and Seth Curry a late scratch with a left ankle injury, no other Nets player managed to score in double figures.
“We didn’t really play a good ball game,” Nets coach Steve Nash said. “I can’t sugarcoat it. “We didn’t play a great game and not enough guys played well.”
Durant did all he could, but even after his 19 third-quarter points the Nets went into the final period trailing by seven.
His eight three-pointers, on 10 attempts, were also a career high and he surpassed his previous career high of 54 points, set when he was with Oklahoma City in 2014.
Atlanta, meanwhile, had four players score in double figures. In addition to Young, who added 10 rebounds, De’Andre Hunter and Lou Williams scored 15 points apiece and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot added 11 as the Hawks won their fifth straight game.
Elsewhere in the East, the Miami Heat tightened their hold on first place with a 127-109 victory over the Chicago Bulls.
Embiid fires Sixers
Jimmy Butler scored 22 points and Kyle Lowry added 19 for the Heat, who have followed a four-game skid with a three-game winning streak.
In Philadelphia, Joel Embiid scored 29 points as the 76ers halted their three-game losing streak with an emphatic 144-114 rout of the Charlotte Hornets.
The Sixers had slumped to defeats against the Phoenix Suns, Milwaukee Bucks and lowly Detroit Pistons heading into Saturday’s early home game at the Wells Fargo Center.
But Embiid and a balanced Sixers offense were in no mood to concede a fourth straight loss against a Charlotte team in 10th place in the Eastern Conference.
The Sixers held a narrow 58-53 lead at half-time but pulled away with a 45-point third-quarter performance before pouring in 41 points in the fourth quarter to seal a crushing win.
Embiid finished with 29 points, 14 rebounds and six assists while Tobias Harris had 23 points, five rebounds and four assists.
“That was a great game for us, coming back off a disappointing loss in Detroit,” the Sixers’ Harris said afterwards. “Just being able to push the pace today and get going was big for us.”
The Sixers can clinch a playoff place on Sunday with a win over the Cleveland Cavaliers, who defeated the already-eliminated New York Knicks 119-101.
In the West, the Golden State Warriors clinched their first NBA playoff berth since 2019 with a dramatic 111-107 come-from-behind victory over the Utah Jazz.
Trailing by as many as 21 points in the first quarter and by 16 early in the fourth quarter, the Warriors outscored the Jazz 24-4 over the final eight minutes.
Klay Thompson drained four three-pointers in an 18-0 run that put the Warriors ahead for good culminating in Jordan Poole’s three-pointer with 3:33 remaining that gave them a 105-103 lead.
Thompson finished with 36 points and Poole added 31 for the Warriors, who reached the NBA Finals in five straight seasons up to 2019, winning three titles, before missing out on the playoffs in the 2020 and 2021.