The ‘Believe’ Hawks are back in the playoffs. How far can they get this time?

Atlanta Hawks' Trae Young (11) drives against Cleveland Cavaliers' Darius Garland (10) during the second half of an NBA play-in basketball game Friday, April 15, 2022, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Nick Cammett)

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

Atlanta Hawks' Trae Young (11) drives against Cleveland Cavaliers' Darius Garland (10) during the second half of an NBA play-in basketball game Friday, April 15, 2022, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Nick Cammett)

All the emotion, it seemed, could tip the scale in the Cavaliers’ favor.

From the roar of Cleveland’s crowd, eager for their first playoff appearance without LeBron James since 1998, to the long-awaited return of Jarrett Allen, playing for the first time since fracturing his finger in early March and giving the Cavs even more of a size advantage against the Hawks.

So little went right for the Hawks in the first half of Friday’s must-win play-in tournament game, just as so little went right in the first half of the team’s season. Then, the “Believe” Hawks, who last year embraced that mantra and went from counted-out underdogs all the way to the Eastern Conference finals, re-emerged.

“The message was ‘Believe,’” Hawks coach Nate McMillan said of his halftime speech, with his team trailing by 10 and having just lost Clint Capela to a right knee hyperextension in the second quarter. “‘Believe’. I think this team is built for moments like this. They showed last year what they could do in situations like this. And once again we do the same thing, with a guy down, a guy stepping up in that second half. … The group just came together.”

Trae Young’s star power went on full display as he scored 32 of his 38 points in the second half. The scrappiness of backup guard Delon Wright, unsung hero of the Hawks’ defense, changed the game. Wing Bogdan Bogdanovic kept them in it early and wouldn’t let the Hawks go down without a fight. Second-year backup center Onyeka Okongwu stepped up and helped get the 107-101 win, dedicating it postgame to Capela.

After starting the season 17-25, a disappointment after last year’s magical run, the Hawks recaptured that magic in the nick of time to nab the East’s No. 8 seed. On the road, no less, where they had gone 16-25 in the regular season. Their reward? A quick turnaround and matchup with the No. 1-seed Heat, the first game slated for 1 p.m. Sunday in Miami, sure to be another hostile environment.

“We know they’re a tough team,” McMillan said of the Heat. “We just saw Miami about a week ago. Our focus is on (the win vs. Cleveland), though, enjoying (Friday’s) game and moving on to the playoff round, which was our goal at the start, the beginning of the season, and how these guys have responded really the second half of the season, all that we’ve gone through, and to play themselves into the playoffs, it’s really just good, solid basketball. And as I said to them, I feel that they’re built for it. I really do feel these guys, Trae and our players are built for moments like this.”

The Hawks lost to the Heat 113-109 on April 8, their second-to-last game in the regular season, blowing a six-point lead in the final five minutes, with five turnovers in the fourth quarter. The Hawks are 1-3 against Miami this season, surviving a close call to get a 110-108 win at home Jan. 21. The Hawks lost both away games to the Heat. They’re no stranger to knocking off the East’s No. 1 seed, however, having beaten the 76ers in seven games in the second round last year.

“Honestly, it would’ve been really bad if we finished the season without the playoffs,” Bogdanovic said of the Hawks earning a playoff berth. “That’s really bad, I think, for us, with the talent we have. It’s really important to stay in the playoffs and to stay in the race for to compete against tough teams in the league. It’s really important for our team, for everyone here. This team is still young. A lot to learn, and we’re now in the playoffs. We gotta lock in.”

The Heat tied for the third-best record in the NBA’s regular season at 53-29 (the Hawks finished 43-39), first in 3-point percentage (37.9%) with the Hawks second at 37.4%, and feature a stout defense, one of the team’s weaknesses (fourth-best defensive rating at 108.4, compared with No. 26 for the Hawks at 113.7).

The slate gets wiped clean in the playoffs, though, and if the Hawks can get more clutch performances from Young, Wright and Bogdanovic like they did against the Cavs, that’ll be a huge help. But health is of the biggest question marks for the Hawks entering this series, with Capela’s MRI Saturday in Miami fortunately revealing no structural damage and power forward John Collins (right ring finger sprain, right foot strain with a plantar fascia tear), the Hawks second-leading scorer (16.2 points per game) and rebounder (7.8 per game) out since March 11, though in an encouraging sign he’s advanced to playing 4-on-4 recently.

Losing Capela would be a huge blow, with the way he has dominated for the Hawks the past couple of months.

If both of those guys are out, more responsibility falls on second-year player Okongwu, who has tended toward foul trouble (3.1 fouls in 20.7 minutes per game) but will need to stay on the floor to rebound and defend. As a team, the Hawks will need to replicate the defense they showed in the second half against Cleveland, holding the Cavs to 40 points.

Jimmy Butler (21.4 points, 5.5 assists, 5.9 rebounds, 1.6 steals per game) leads the Heat in scoring, followed by Tyler Herro (20.7 points, five rebounds, four assists) and Bam Adebayo (19.1 points, 10.1 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 1.4 steals), who recently cleared health and safety protocols and will be available for Sunday.

“It’s exciting,” Young said of advancing to the playoffs and facing the Heat. “We get another opportunity. They’ve been clicking on all cylinders, especially here recently. They’ve got a little bit more rest than we have. So we’ve got to be ready to bring it. We know the crowd’s going to be crazy. The environment’s going to be fun. So we’ve just got to be ready to be locked in and take care of business.”