What the Atlanta Hawks’ Trae Young did in silencing the New York Knicks and their raucous fans in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference first-round playoff series Sunday was that second, much louder kind.
When a visiting player takes over down the stretch not just of any game but of the first playoff game he’s ever played … when the building in which he does that isn’t just any arena but Madison Square Garden … when the crowd being quieted isn’t just pent up from 15 months of a global pandemic but eight years of postseason drought, that’s more than just an index-finger-held-up-to-the-lips moment.
The Hawks’ unflappable point guard broke out the muzzles and the duct tape, too, against the 15,000 fans so boisterously stirring echoes of Knicks playoff thrillers past.
Catching the ball in the backcourt with 9.8 second left in a game tied at 105-105, Young pushed forward, veered to the right around New York’s Taj Gibson and Frank Ntilikina, evaded Reggie Bullock as he pinched in from the wing and tossed up a floater that dropped at the 0.9-second mark.
Young earned the chance to respond in pantomime to fans who, many of them by his telling, weren’t just vocal but vulgar. Hey, it’s New York, right?
“I don’t know, I’ve always looked at it as I’m doing something right if I’m affecting them with my play that much,” Young said after scoring 32 points with seven rebounds and 10 assists. “Fans can only talk. They can’t guard me. They’re not out there playing. For me, it’s just a part of the game.
“As I hit the floater, it felt like everybody got quiet.”
In that instant, Young became the first player to hit a game-winner in the final five seconds of his postseason debut since the Miami Heat’s Dwyane Wade in 2004.
Said Atlanta teammate John Collins, whose shot at setting a screen for Young ended when he ran out of one of his sneakers: “He did his thing. He made MSG cold, we go home happy.”
The NBA’s only player to average at least 25 points and nine assists this season, Young had put up 24.7 points and 12 assists in three games against the Knicks this season. Trouble was, the Hawks lost all three. This time, showing more poise than the home team long on playoff newbies, Young and the Hawks picked apart New York’s stingy defense with superb pick-and-roll execution.
Still, the 6-foot-1 point guard, wrapping up his third season, saved his best for last. He scored 13 points in the fourth quarter as the lead bounced back and forth five times with three ties. Young had a pair of rebounds, three assists and, after failing to get to the foul line at all for three quarters, went 9-of-9 from there over the final 6:43.
That should have given Spike Lee, Tracy Morgan and the other VIPs and celebrities enjoying their return to MSG a sense of where things might be heading.
“He lives for this,” Collins said. “He has supreme confidence in his game. I feel like he wakes up in the morning coming after these moments. He’s built for it and I’ve seen him do it time in, time out in his career.”