Atlanta’s Trae Young poked holes in New York’s fourth-ranked defense in the first round.
It wasn’t a fluke.
Against top-seeded Philadelphia and its No. 2 defense, Young schooled the Sixers with his shooting and playmaking.
He had 35 points and 10 assists in the Hawks’ 128-124 victory against the 76ers on Sunday in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference semifinals series.
If you missed Young’s playoff arrival in the first round, it’s not too late to pay attention now.
In his first six career playoff games, Young has scored at least 30 points four times and has three double-doubles.
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The Sixers put different defenders (Danny Green, Ben Simmons, Matisse Thybulle) on Young, and he was still scored. Philadelphia gave Young different defensive looks and tried to get the ball out of his hands with traps and double teams, and expect Philadelphia to be more aggressive with its approach in Game 2.
Atlanta Hawks guard Trae Young (11) dribbles the ball at center court against the Philadelphia 76ers. (Photo: Bill Streicher, USA TODAY Sports)
Young is Atlanta’s star, but it isn’t a one-man operation. Four other Hawks scored in double-figures: John Collins and Bogdan Bogdanovic each scored 21 points, Clint Capela had 11 points and 10 rebounds and Kevin Huerter added 15 points.
Atlanta made a franchise-record 20 3-pointers with four players (Bogdanovic, Young, Collins and Huerter) making at least three. Its spacing and shooting gave Philadelphia’s defense trouble all afternoon.
“We can absolutely be better in the way we rotated,” Sixers coach Doc Rivers said.
Atlanta possessed a 57-31 lead with 6:54 left in the second quarter.
The confident Hawks took Game 1 on the road and came away with a valuable playoff lesson – without needing the sting of a loss. No lead in the playoffs is safe, and a team like the Sixers will keep swinging.
That 26-point lead dwindled to 20 late in the third quarter and it was still a 116-99 Hawks advantage with 4:42 remaining the fourth quarter.
Possession by possession, the Sixers increased their defensive pressure and started scoring. The lead trickled to 10 with 1:50 left, then three with 23.2 seconds left. Even a 126-118 Hawks lead shrunk to 126-124 with 10.5 seconds to go.
“You definitely love to teach off of a W,” Hawks coach Nate McMillan said. “We know we’re going to have to be sharper going down the stretch and I expect us to do that.”
The chaotic finish was spurred by Philadelphia’s pressure and Atlanta’s panic. As excellent as Young was, he had three turnovers in the final four minutes.
“Late in the game, I take a lot of responsibility for the turnover,” Young said. “In managing the game, I can do it a little bit better. The best thing that happened today was that we won. We have a lot of things we can get better at. I’m not mad about that.
This game was another turnover away from talking about Atlanta’s epic collapse.
“We’ll certainly be watching film on that tomorrow,” McMillan said. “I thought we did a good job the first half, really the first quarter taking care of the ball, getting attempts at basket. Only two turnovers in the first quarter. We had seven in the second. We just really kind of lost our composure in the second half. We knew they were going to come out aggressive, and we didn’t do a good job of handling their pressure.”
But here’s another bright spot. The Hawks now have three road wins in the six playoff games this season. When the Hawks absolutely need a point late in the game, they got it – specifically a 3-pointer from Bogdanovic that extended Atlanta’s lead to six and five consecutive points from Collins that pushed Atlanta’s lead to 126-118.
“We know that we didn’t finish well,” McMillan said. “I liked our start. I thought we came in with a lot of composure (and) came in believing in ourselves. We knew we had to get off to a good start, and we did that.”
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