Trai Young was preparing for her first season when a message popped up on her phone
NEW YORK – Trey Young was preparing for his first season when a message popped up on his phone.
Atlanta interim coach Nate McMillan wanted to tell his point guard that he was made for this time of year, the kind of praise that can build a young player’s confidence as he moves into unfamiliar territory.
It was a good gesture. Also, an unnecessary one.
“He didn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know,” Young said. “I believe in myself. I know I’m made for this.”
His team might as well.
The Hawks advanced to the second round by defeating the New York Knicks in five games. Atlanta wrapped up the series with a 103-89 win on Wednesday night and will play top-seeded Philadelphia in their first appearance in the Eastern Conference semifinals since 2016.
The Hawks are 32-12 since they fired Lloyd Pierce on March 1, just 14-20. He previously had the best record since McMillan took over, and Young said he was not satisfied with just one series win.
“I know what this team is capable of and as I’ve been saying all year, we have a team and a team that can surprise a lot of people,” Young said. “But we’re not going to surprise ourselves because we know what we’re capable of.”
The Knicks defeated them in all three meetings during the regular season and the teams split the first two games of the series in New York. But Atlanta dominated from there, winning each of the last three games by double digits.
The key was Young, who averaged 29.2 points and 9.8 assists in the series. He closed it with 36 points and nine assists, berating the crowd that mocked him after hitting a 3-pointer with a minute in every game.
Even after being cursed and even spat on by a fan in Game 2, he never bothered with the New York crowd. He probably won’t be by the notoriously strict fans in Philadelphia anymore.
“Some respond better than others. Some have different reactions. Trai fed it right,” said Hawks forward John Collins. “He wants the pressure. He wants to be in the spotlight. He thrives in it.”
Hawks is much more than just Young. Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau credits the Hawks for finding shooters to keep around, keeping the floor in the lane for Young’s drive and Clint Capella to the center or the team’s over the 3-point line. Passes to open teammates when defenders are near him.
The Knicks’ defense, which limited teams to the fewest points per game and lowest shooting percentage during the regular season, was never able to crush Young.
Now it’s Philadelphia’s turn to try.
“That’s the key,” McMillan said. “He’s the guy who sets our pace. He’s a fearless player. Every game he brings up and drops whatever he has on the floor. Tonight, we needed it. We wanted our guys.” Be the attackers. It starts with TRAI.”
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