Atlanta Hawks guard Trae Young played in his first career playoff game on Sunday evening. His teammate Lou Williams was playing in his 72nd.
As the Hawks stood in the huddle with 9.8 seconds left — with the screams of 15,000 New York Knicks fans raining down upon them — Williams had a simple piece of advice for Young.
“Don’t pass the ball.”
Not only did Young follow that advice, but he knocked down the game-winning floater to earn himself a spot in Madison Square Garden lore as a villain of the home squad. After hearing chants of “F— Trae Young” from the Garden crowd, Young fired back at the end of the game. As he walked back up the court after his floater went in with 0.9 to go, Young raised his finger to his lips to shush the crowd.
“As I hit the floater, it just felt like everybody got quiet,” Young said. “I was waiting for them F-you chants again. I was excited.”
It was the perfect ending to a playoff debut for Young as he led the fifth-seeded Hawks to a 107-105 win to take a 1-0 series lead. Williams said Young was excited to make his playoff debut in New York City.
“I’m sure he’s dreamed of moments like that,” Williams said. “Tie ball game in Madison Square Garden with an opportunity to win the game. … You kind of trick yourself into thinking you gotta make a play. Hey man, go win the basketball game. This your team. These guys have put the franchise on your shoulders as well as the other young guys. You’re the ‘Point God,’ go win the basketball game.”
According to ESPN Stats & Information research, Young finished with 32 points, 10 assists and 7 rebounds in his playoff debut, joining LeBron James as the only players with 30 points, 10 assists and 5 rebounds in their postseason debuts. He’s also the first player to have 30 points and 10 assists in a playoff game at Madison Square Garden since Michael Jordan did so in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semifinals in 1989.
According to Elias Sports Bureau, Young became the second player in the past 25 years to hit a go-ahead field goal in the final 10 seconds of the fourth quarter or overtime in a playoff debut, joining Dwyane Wade, who hit a game winner against the New Orleans Hornets with 1.3 left in Game 1 of the 2004 first round.
Young said he didn’t “necessarily need” Williams to give him that little message before the final play, but it certainly didn’t hurt.
“That’s the best part about Lou and some of the older guys that we had,” Young said. “I’m smart. I’m very smart with basketball. I feel like I know a lot. But there’s also a lot that I don’t know. There’s definitely times in a moment like that where I may have called the screen up and still went off it. Just Lou telling me that, it clicked in my mind that as soon as John lost his shoe that I needed just to clear it out and go win it. That’s how I felt.”
Initially, Young called for a screen from John Collins on the final play, but while Young was still in the backcourt, Collins lost his shoe as he was battling with Taj Gibson. Young recognized what was happening and waved the screen off, opting to take Frank Ntilikina one-on-one. That’s when he etched his name alongside the likes of Michael Jordan and Reggie Miller.
“I definitely know the history of players coming in here and being hated,” Young said. “Like I said, I take that as a compliment to be honest with you. Obviously I’m doing something right if you hate me that much. I embrace it and try to focus on my team and trying to help my team win. At the end of the day, we’ll get the last laugh if we do that.”
Young led the charge for the Hawks in the fourth quarter, assisting or scoring on 21 of Atlanta’s 36 points. It was much needed after the Hawks scored just 19 in the third quarter and watched the Knicks climb back into the game. Atlanta seemed to be in control in the first quarter, building up an 11-point lead, but the New York bench chipped away and allowed the Knicks to take a lead in the third quarter.
As the teams went back and forth in the final minutes, it was Bogdan Bogdanovic who came up with one of the biggest shots of the night as he hit a 3-pointer with just under a minute left to tie it up at 103. Bogdanovic picked up a loose ball and quickly got a shot up to prevent the Knicks from having a chance to go up two scores late.
After getting a stop, Young came down and drew two free throws to give the Hawks a lead. After Derrick Rose answered with a 15-foot floater, it came down to the final play for Young.
Young said he was experiencing a lot of emotions postgame, but it’s still just Game 1.
“I’m truly blessed to be in this position,” Young said. “But I know the work’s not done yet. It’s just one game. Enjoy this win tonight for it being my first win, first game in the playoffs. But we gotta get back at it tomorrow.”