At the end of a Game 2 loss to the New York Knicks on Wednesday, Atlanta Hawks guard Trae Young — the newly-minted subject of Knicks’ fans aggression — walked off the court looking back towards the fans.
He told the crowd that the Hawks would “see you in the ‘A.'”
On Friday night, Young and the rest of the Hawks welcomed New York to Atlanta with a 105-94 Game 3 win to take a 2-1 advantage in the first-round series in front of 15,743 fans at State Farm Arena.
The Knicks were more aggressive in defending Young on Friday, blitzing him more as they tried to slow down his scoring efforts. He still led the Hawks with 21 points, but he also had a game-high 14 assists to go along with just two turnovers.
Young was at his best in the first half when he had 10 assists and zero turnovers in a half for the first time in his career. Hawks coach Nate McMillan said Young needed to take advantage of what the Knicks gave him and he did just that.
“When they are collapsing in the paint as New York’s defense does, the perimeter is open,” McMillan said. “He has to find those guys and get the ball to the shooters. If they stay on the perimeter, then he has the ability to attack the big in the paint.
“It’s making reads and making sure that he takes care of the ball. He only had two turnovers tonight. That’s a really good game for a point guard — 21, 14 and 2. Those are great numbers that we want to see and we expect to see. He’s good enough to put those numbers up.”
After the Knicks knotted up the series on Wednesday, Young was not dejected. Walking off the court at Madison Square Garden, he seemed almost happy that he’d get to take his Hawks into battle in a home playoff with a nearly-full arena.
“The energy, the buzz in the building was great,” Young said. “Just having the fans back definitely helped. Their energy, we really fed off it the whole game. … This is my first experience at home in the playoffs. I’m looking forward to having a lot more of these. It’s so much fun. There’s so much buzz in the building.”
Young averaged 31 points per game in the first two games of the series. Despite his scoring taking a dip on Friday, he was able to get his teammates involved. In Game 1, Young scored or assisted on 56 points. In Game 2, that number dipped to 46. On Friday, it shot back up to 54.
“For me, I have to find ways to score whether it’s me getting downhill and scoring or finding the open man,” Young said. “Tonight I needed to find the open man because they were being so aggressive. It’s really just making the right reads.”
In part because of Young’s playmaking skills, the Hawks were able to shoot 51.9 percent from the field and they went 16-of-27 from deep. That hot-shooting helped the Hawks overcome a very wide free-throw disparity. The Knicks went 27-of-30 from the line while Atlanta was just 5-of-8. According to ESPN Stats and Information research, the -22 margin was the third-worst free-throw differential in a playoff win in NBA history.
Young led seven Hawks in double figures including the rest of the starting lineup — Bogdan Bogdanovic (15), John Collins (14), Clint Capela (13) and De’Andre Hunter (11). McMillan said Young’s growing trust in those players is what has helped his growth throughout the season and into this series.
“He’s showing some growth in his play and managing and understanding what he needs to do out on the floor,” McMillan said. “He’s keeping all of those guys involved while continuing to stay aggressive. And he’s making good reads. And we’ve talked a number of times, he has to cut down his turnovers. He’s too good of a passer to have five, six turnovers a game. Two is OK. But five, six is a big number for a guy who passes as well as he does.”
Bogdanovic, who was brought over this summer as a free agent to help provide even more shooting and close-out games for Atlanta, said Young makes the game “simple” for his teammates. Bogdanovic also knows the best is yet to come for the third-year point guard.
“Like Nate said, he’s like a Ferrari,” Bogdanovic said. “And he’s just learning to drive the car.”