In the first game of the Eastern Conference Finals, Trae Young poured in a career-best 14 assists to lead the Atlanta Hawks to a 109-102 win over the New York Knicks. Young’s career-best 14 assists fall just short of the NBA Playoff record of 15, set by John Starks of the Knicks in 1994. Young’s second career playoff triple-double — teaming with another NBA rookie, John Collins — prompted Atlanta Hawks Head Coach Lloyd Pierce to call the performance “the best performance by any NBA point guard in 21 years,” referring to Michael Jordan’s “flu game” performance in Game 5 of the 1992 NBA Finals.
The swiftest young point guard in the NBA leads the Hawks to a 2-1 series lead over the Knicks in the first round.
Trae Young had another impressive performance in New York last night, scoring 24 points, dishing out 14 assists, and making a huge block on Kristaps Porzingis in the fourth quarter.
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After Game 2, which the Atlanta Hawks lost to the New York Knicks on Wednesday, Atlanta Hawks guard Tra Young – the latest object of aggression from Knicks fans – left the field and turned to the fans.
He told the crowd that the Hawks would see you in the five.
Friday night, Young and the rest of the Hawks welcomed New York to Atlanta with a 105-94 victory in Game 3 to take a 2-1 lead in their first-round playoff series in front of 15,743 fans at State Farm Arena.
On Friday, the Knicks defended Young more aggressively and attacked him more often to slow down his scoring ability. Still, he led the Hawks with 21 points and also handed out 14 assists on just two missed shots.
Young was at his best in the first half, with 10 assists and no turnovers for the first time in his career. Hawks coach Nate McMillan told Young to take advantage of what the Knicks gave him, and he did.
According to McMillan, when they sink into the paint, as New York’s defense does, the perimeter becomes open. He needs to find these guys and get the ball to the shooters. If they stay on the perimeter, he has the ability to attack the bigs in the paint.
It’s all about reading and trusting him to hold the ball. He only had two turnovers today. That’s a very good game for a point guard – 21, 14 and two. These are excellent figures that we want and expect to see. He’s good enough to deliver that kind of performance.
After the Knicks played evenly on Wednesday, Young was undeterred. When he left Madison Square Garden, he seemed almost happy to lead his Hawks into battle in a home game in the playoffs in front of a nearly full arena.
The energy, the excitement in the building was amazing, Young said. The return of the fans certainly helped. Their energy really spurred us on during the game. … This is the first time I’ve been to a home game during the playoffs. I can’t wait to see a lot more. It’s so much fun. There’s so much noise in the building.
Young is averaging 31 points in the first two games of the series. Although his hitting percentage wasn’t that high on Friday, he was able to give his teammates a boost. In the first game, Young scored or assisted on 56 points. In the second game, that number was reduced to 46. On Friday, it was 54.
For me, I have to find ways to score, whether it’s going down and scoring or finding a free man, Young said. I had to find an open person today because they were very aggressive. This is really the right value.
Thanks in part to Young’s positional play, the Hawks shot 51.9 percent from the field and 16 of 27 from long range. Those shots helped the Hawks close a big gap in free throws. The Knicks made 27 of 30 shots at the line, while Atlanta made just 5 of 8. According to ESPN Stats & Information, the minus 22 differential 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 confidence in these players has contributed to his progress throughout the season and in this series.
He is showing growth in his game, in his management and in his understanding of what he needs to do on the field, McMillan said. He keeps all those guys in the game while remaining aggressive. And he reads well. And we talked a lot about how he needs to cut back on wasted balls. He is too good a passer to make five or six mistakes in a game. Two is good. But five, six is a large number for a man as well suited as he.
Bogdanovic, who joined the Hawks as a free agent in November 2020 to take more shots and finish games, said Young makes it easier for his teammates to play. Bogdanovic also knows the best is yet to come for the third-year point guard.
Like Nate said, he’s like a Ferrari, Bogdanovich said. And he’s learning to drive.
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