Trae Young didn’t so much spit in the Knicks’ faces Friday night as much as he dissected their defense time and again, to the delight of his home fans.
After netting 32 and 30 points in the first two games in front of a hostile and profane Garden crowd — and getting spit on by a fan in his team’s Game 2 loss — Young was the consummate facilitator Friday night with 21 points, 14 assists and only two turnovers as the Hawks took a 2-1 lead with a 105-94 win in Atlanta.
“I was very motivated coming into this game, and I think everyone was. Any time you lose a game, you want to come back better,” Young said. “I think playing on our floor was a big part of it tonight. We didn’t want to lose on our court.
“It felt like as the game was going, they were trying to take away my scoring, and blitzing more and being more aggressive on me. I’ve got to find ways for us to score. Whether it’s me getting downhill and scoring or finding the open man. Tonight, I needed to find the open man because they were being so aggressive.”
Indeed, the Hawks shot just 12-for-44 from 3-point range and blew a 13-point halftime lead in Game 2 at the Garden. But led by ex-Knick Danilo Gallinari’s 4-for-4 night from long distance Friday, Young kept finding open teammates and Atlanta knocked down 16 of 27 (59.3 percent) 3-point attempts in the Game 3 victory.
“Trae has been doing that all season long, his ability to create offense not only for himself, but his teammates,” Hawks coach Nate McMillan said. “Not only creating opportunities and forcing their defense to collapse, but kicking it out. … All series long, we hadn’t made shots. Tonight we made the shots.”
The 6-foot-1 point guard made some, too, finishing 8-for-19 overall in a duel with 32-year-old veteran point guard Derrick Rose, who started in place of Elfrid Payton and led the Knicks with 30 points in 39 minutes.
“He’s been playing great. But I think we’ve got to see more [defensive] coverages,” Rose said of Young. “They were just knocking down shots. “I know a few times I didn’t make the second and third effort to contest shots. If you’re not making those plays with a shooting team like this there’s no way you’re going to win.”
Hawks teammate John Collins said Young “makes everything easier” for the offense when he penetrates and makes the right reads, whether it’s scoring or keeping everyone involved.
The 22-year-old Young became the fifth player in NBA history to average at least 25 points and 10 assists through his first three career playoff games, according to ESPN, joining Oscar Robertson, Kevin Johnson, Chris Paul and Stephen Curry.
“Trae is an elite playmaker, as we’ve all come to know. I’m used to it, but I don’t take it for granted,” said Collins, who scored 14 points after posting zero in a foul-plagued Game 2. “He’s ultra-talented. We all understand that.“Secondly, as he gets older and his game progresses. He’s getting a lot smarter and understanding that the kitchen sink is going to get thrown at him in the playoffs. … He’s taking a cerebral approach to the game and we all love to see that.”