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Mason, Hornets eliminate Hawks

Mase was a machine.

Anthony Mason scored 21 of his 29 points in the second half, and the Charlotte Hornets, bouncing back from matching the NBA's lowest-scoring playoff game, eliminated the Hawks in the first round with a 91-82 victory in Game 4 Friday night.

"Mase was awesome," said Charlotte coach Dave Cowens, whose team advanced to the second round for the second time in team history after winning the best-of-five series 3-1.

Mason was a dominating force, especially in the fourth quarter, when he scored 13 points with powerful, unorthodox moves. With the score tied at 74, Mason, a 6-foot-8 forward, scored on three straight trips down the floor, unbothered by the presence of Dikembe Mutombo in the middle of the lane.

"Me and him were both talking, but he sure came up big in the fourth quarter," said Steve Smith, who led the Hawks with 27 points but had only six in the final quarter. "You've got to give him the credit. He took the game on his shoulders."

It was reminiscent of Mason's performance in Game 2, when he scored 25 points in a 92-85 victory. He slipped past Mutombo for a lay-in, moved outside to hit a 13-foot baseline jumper, then spun and hit another 6-footer that gave the Hornets an 80-74 lead with 4:39 remaining.

Mason, who sparked a minor controversy late in the regular season when he said the Hawks had "no heart," pumped his fist on the way back down the court. He went on to tie his season high for points, in addition to getting 14 rebounds.

Atlanta didn't get the margin below six points the rest of the way. It didn't hurt that Atlanta coach Lenny Wilkens inexplicably kept Alan Henderson on the bench for all but the final three minutes of the fourth quarter. His replacement, Christian Laettner, went 0-of-4 in the final quarter and was of no help trying to guard Mason.

"I was real surprised," Mason said. "I was shocked he wasn't in the game down the stretch."

So was Henderson, who replaced Laettner as a starter for the final 33 games of the season and Thursday was named the NBA's most improved player.

"Maybe I could have slowed him (Mason) down, maybe not," Henderson said. "But I would have liked to have been in there. I want to play the first quarter and I want to play the fourth quarter. That's the kind of player I am. I want to be in there."

Wilkens defended his decision.

"He's just one guy," Wilkens said. "We worked Christian Laettner in because he's a quality player. That's just a decision."