Forget the notion that the Charlotte Hornets just can't match up with the Atlanta Hawks.
After Atlanta went 4-0 against Charlotte in the regular season, rolling to double-digit victories each time, the Hornets struck back Thursday night with a 97-87 triumph in the opener of their first-round playoff series."This certainly changes the outlook on a lot of things," said Glen Rice, whose near-perfect shooting helped Charlotte end a five-game postseason losing streak dating back nearly three years.
The second game in the best-of-5 series is Saturday night at the Charlotte Coliseum, where the Hornets went 32-9 in the regular season, their best home record in franchise history.
"Now we've got to put them in a deeper hole and make them climb out," Rice said after making 13 consecutive field-goal attempts on the way to scoring 34 points on 15-for-19 shooting.
Atlanta limited Charlotte to less than 40 percent shooting during the regular season, but Rice's play helped the Hornets shoot 59 percent, their second-best outing of the season.
The Hawks, who shot 51 percent against Charlotte in the regular season and won by an average of 17 points, were limited to 46 percent Thursday night.
"We really blossomed. We just had the will to go out there and win," Charlotte coach Dave Cow-ens said. "It's really great to win and make a statement."
As was the case in their four previous meetings, the Hawks once again capitalized on the superior speed of their guards, scoring 20 first-half points on layups, dunks and tip-ins. But Charlotte cut that figure to eight in the second half by using more pressure on the perimeter, and the Hawks were unable to compensate for it.
"The law of averages catches up with you," Atlanta coach Lenny Wil-kens said. "It's hard to beat anybody five straight times."
Now the odds are heavily in Charlotte's favor. The team that wins the first game of best-of-5 series has gone on to win the series 83 percent of the time.
"Now we have to come out Saturday and get one here," Atlanta's Steve Smith said. "It doesn't matter what the regular-season re-cords were. The playoffs are a totally different story."
Rice scored 19 in the second half of the latest in a long list of duels against Smith. It began in high school, continued into college when Smith went to Michigan State and Rice to Michigan, and now it's carried over into the NBA.
"It was definitely a shootout between the two of us," said Smith, who hit 13 of 22 shots and wound up with 35 points, 16 of which came in the first quarter.
"We always try to play each other physical because we've been playing against each other for a long time," Smith said. "Good shooters don't like to be bumped, so we were both trying to bump each other. Glen and I both shot the ball well, but we ended up losing."
Smith had nine points as the Hawks opened the fourth quarter with a 13-4 run to go up 82-81 with 7:38 left.
Rice answered with a driving layup that put the Hornets ahead to stay. The basket started a 10-2 run by Charlotte, including six points by Rice. His 21-foot baseline jumper was his 13th consecutive made field-goal attempt and gave the Hornets a 91-84 lead with 2:23 left.
Rice missed his last two shots, but by then, it was too late for the Hawks.