Coach Steve Clifford wins final game as Charlotte Hornets upset playoff-bound Cavaliers 120-110.

Cleveland— Charlotte Hornets rallied to upset playoff-bound Cleveland Cavaliers 120-110 on Sunday with Nick Smith Jr. scoring a season-high 24 points and Steve Clifford winning his coaching farewell.  

Cleveland rested All-Star shooting guard Donovan Mitchell, point guard Darius Garland, and sixth man Caris LeVert, and Max Strus had his first career triple-double with 14 points, 10 rebounds, and 11 assists  

The Cavaliers finished fourth in the East and will play the Orlando Magic at home in the first round. Beating Indiana Friday secured a top-four finish, but they dropped 12 of their final 19 regular-season games to end 48-34. Cleveland center Jarrett Allen said, “Orlando is a young team and they’re going to fight for a lot, so we have to come in with the mentality to throw the first punch. “We must focus, watch our film, and prepare for the playoffs.”  

For Cleveland, Georges Niang scored 16, Allen 14 and seven rebounds, and Evan Mobley 14. Allen made all seven field goal attempts and 20 of 21 from the field in the final two games.  

Cavaliers big Pete Nance, son of former All-Star Larry Nance and brother of Pelicans center Larry Nance Jr., scored his first NBA point on a 3-pointer. Before spraining his left ankle, second-year pro Isaiah Mobley scored 11 and Craig Porter Jr. started as point guard.  

“The safety of our guys was the most important thing, so we stuck to our plan of giving the guys who play typical minutes for us no more than the first three quarters,” Cleveland coach J.B. Bickerstaff said. To provide our younger players new experiences today, we accomplished that.

JT Thor had a career-high 20 points and 10 rebounds for the Hornets, who concluded the game on an 18-2 surge and finished 21-61, third-worst in the East. Marques Bolden scored 14 and blocked four shots, while Bryce McGowens scored 18.  

Clifford, 62, has coached Charlotte for seven seasons, including the past two, and is its career leader in games coached (574) and wins (244). He will likely remain as an advisor. “I thought our guys had a great attitude in the last game of the year,” Clifford remarked. “Over the last 25–35 games, we were out, but they stuck together, practiced well, and played well. All of them make me proud.”  

A right wrist injury kept Hornets small forward Brandon Miller, who is second in NBA rookie scoring at 17.3, out. A injured right wrist kept power forward Miles Bridges out. Niang became the first Cavalier to play all 82 games since LeBron James in 2017-2018.  

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