With Trae Young as a franchise player you can’t go far. Yes, he scores a lot, but … A lot of highlight peeeeero … And the defense, what? The choristers who have raised doubts about Trae since his arrival in the NBA will surely lower their voices as soon as they finish for the Atlanta Hawks. They don’t finish: they could have lost to the Knicks in the first round and they should have lost to the Sixers in the second. But they made it to the conference final, something exotic for the franchise since the move to Georgia. A field that Dominique Wilkins did not step on (basically because of Larry Bird and the Celtic). And which came in 2015 a team trained by, precisely, Mike Budenholzer, now highly questioned tenant of the rival bench. That team that won 60 games (Paul Millsap, Kyle Korver, Al Horford, Jeff Teague, DeMarre Carroll, Dennis Schröder …) was swept (4-0) by the Cavaliers in that East final six years ago. So this is uncharted territory for the Atlanta Hawks: 113-116 at Milwaukee and 0-1 in their favor. Three victories from the Finals. Never seen since moving from St Louis-Atlanta. We are talking about 1968.
Trae Young’s arrival in the NBA was from a 2018 draft that is on track to be one of the best ever. And it doesn’t seem like an exaggeration right now as that litter shows its chest in these Conference finals. With Mikal Bridges, Kevin Huerter and, of course, DeAndre Ayton (the man from the Vallley oop) and Trae Young. Two players chased by the shadow of Luka Doncic: Ayton was number 1, two places ahead of the Slovenian. Trae was five, two behind, but the Hawks traded it after taking over the former Real Madrid). And two that, no matter how good Doncic is, which he is, are marking their territory and burying the comparisons: each one is fine where it is.
Bring it on, because basketball can sometimes be simplified so much, that’s the reason the Hawks won in Wisconsin and broke the court factor. For which his team continues to bite and surprise, breaking forecasts: it is 6-2 already out of each in the playoffs. From the noisy Madison Square Garden to the hostile Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia and from there, with almost no time to breathe, to a Fiserv Forum that first seemed to drag the dramatic shock of everything that dragged the series against the Nets and then ended with the restlessness of have seen one of those players who can beat you. The Hawks won three times out of four on the Sixers’ track. And they have beaten the first on a court that was undefeated in the playoffs after the passage of the Heat and Nets. The Bucks are still favorites, even huge favorites, but the Hawks are no joke.
Trae (22 years old) was an all star in 2020 but did not repeat this season. Things surely from the poor performance of his team until Lloyd Pierce left his place to Nate McMillan. So, it was March 1, the team was 14-20 and was eleventh in the East despite having made a lot of noise in the market and having raised the bar of their expectations a lot. The season ended 41-31 (27-11 with McMillan), he has eliminated Knicks and Sixers without a court factor in his favor and has started with his hunger intact and without any fear against the Bucks who are still a better team, it is assumed, but that starting tomorrow they face monstrous pressure against a rival with nothing to lose and happy amid the flames of the (blessed) chaos it is causing.
The Hawks, remember, have De’Andre Hunter injured and Cam Reddish just received a medical discharge but did not play this game. And, more importantly, they have very touched Bogdan Bogdanovic (this time 4 points in 27 minutes). But they have Huerter (13 points), Capela (12 and 19 rebounds), John Collins (23 + 15)… and Trae Young, of course. They have Trae Young: 48 points, 7 rebounds, 11 assists, 17/34 shooting and a prodigious performance. 12 points in the first quarter so that the local superiority was not reflected on the scoreboard (28-25), 25 at halftime, others in a fabulous third quarter that turned the game around (26-34) and leadership at the end, with cold blood on free throws. With 111-110 Khris Middleton missed (a constant), and Trae missed but Capela, between four rivals, took the rebound and scored. Then the Bucks played it off with a horrendous 3-pointer by Connaughton and Trae made all four of his free throws to maintain a lead that didn’t close a missed final 3-pointer, again, by Middleton.
It is the first that a player exceeds 45 points and 10 assists in a conference final, where the record for points is held by Michael Jordan at 54, and where, without going over 22 years, the top is LeBron James’ 48 in 2007 … and Bring on this party. They are, I remember, the first playoffs of his career. And he’s averaging about 30 points and 10 assists. With an amazing competitiveness, leadership and that talent that we already knew, that falls out of his pockets and that for some was not enough … until now.
The Bucks failed everything on the outside. That could be your analysis beyond another series of details (like putting Jeff Teague on track at the same time as Trae) that you will have to go over today in the video session. But, basically, they did not put anything. His astonishing mastery of the paint in the first half (42 points with an 85% accuracy near the rim) was slowed by the shot of three that has gotten the Bucks out of so many problems (and in so many, too): 4/18 in the first half, 8/36 total. A disaster that highlighted the terrible game of a star as reliable as Middleton (15 points, 6/23 in shots, 0/9 in triples), which left Jrue Holiday alone (33 points, 10 assists) and a Giannis Antetokounmpo who finished at 34 + 12 + 9 but he was not the best player on the court by any means. It was Trae Young, who made it clear that no matter how much merit he may have gotten here, he still hasn’t planned the vacation. So high alert for the Bucks tomorrow, in Game 2 before traveling to Atlanta: One loss is just one stumble, two would be a disaster.