CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Glen Rice's near-flawless performance spoiled Atlanta's bid for a perfect season against Charlotte.
Rice made 13 consecutive field-goal attempts during one stretch and wound up with 34 points on 15-for-19 shooting as Charlotte defeated Atlanta 97-87 Thursday night in the opener of their first-round playoff series.
"We've always realized that we can beat this team," Rice said after Charlotte defeated the Hawks for the first time in five games this season. "It's just a matter of us going out and playing our best."
The Hornets, who shot 59 percent -- their second-highest percentage of the season -- also broke a five-game postseason losing streak dating back nearly three years.
"We really blossomed. We just had the will to go out there and win," Charlotte coach Dave Cowens said. "It's really great to win and make a statement."
Rice scored 19 in the second half of the latest in a long list of duels against Steve Smith.
The two played against each other in high school, again when Smith went to Michigan State and Rice to Michigan, and now they're going at it in 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, including 16 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."
Atlanta had capitalized on superior speed from its guards to defeat Charlotte by an average of 17 points during the regular season. The Hawks were able to do that again in the first half Thursday night, scoring 20 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.
"They played real good defense in the second half," coach Lenny Wilkens said. "Our ball movement was not as good as it should be."
The Hornets, who shaved their heads in an attempt to help turn their fortunes against Atlanta, also got 12 points and seven rebounds from Vlade Divac, 10 points and seven boards from Anthony Mason and 12 points and 12 assists from David Wesley.
Mookie Blaylock added 19 points, nine assists and four steals for the Hawks, who shot 51 percent against Charlotte in the regular season but 46 percent Thursday night.
"The law of averages catches up with you," Wilkens said. "It's hard to beat anybody five straight times."
Charlotte center Matt Geiger, who missed the last four games of the regular season with a sore hamstring, did not attempt to play in the opener, and it showed in several areas, most notably rebounding. Atlanta had a 38-29 edge, including 15 by Dikembe Mutombo.
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.
Blaylock, so disruptive during the regular season, needed less than 30 seconds to re-establish himself this time. He began the game by rolling off a screen for a foul-line jumper, then stole the ball on the other end.
Charlotte rallied from 13 points down to tie it at halftime, ending the half with a 15-3 run that featured nine points by reserve forward J.R. Reid.
"I think when they caught back up at halftime, that did a lot to get them back in it," Smith said. "If we could have had any kind of lead going into halftime, we would have had the momentum."
Rice hit all five of his field-goal attempts as the Hornets opened the third quarter with a 17-8 run for a 71-62 lead. The surge helped Charlotte improve to 46-1 when tied or leading heading into the final quarter.
Notes: The crowd at the 24,042-seat Charlotte Coliseum was announced as 19,176, but it appeared to be closer to the 16,000-17,000 range. ... The Hornets' last postseason victory came April 30, 1995, a 106-89 win at home over Chicago. ... The victory was the first in the postseason for Cowens, who went 0-3 in the playoffs last year, his first with the Hornets.
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