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Trae downplays ailing shoulder, helps rally Hawks

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Published in Basketball
Tuesday, 15 June 2021 01:23

When Atlanta Hawks guard Trae Young took off his warm-up prior to Game 4 on Monday night, he revealed a little surprise -- his right shoulder had elastic therapeutic tape on it.

Coach Nate McMillan told reporters he wasn't aware of any injury to his star player prior to tipoff. Young said McMillan gave him a look at the start of the game, but noted: "I told him we're good. We're fine. Let's go play. Let's go win."

Young followed through by leading the Hawks to a 103-100 win against the visiting Philadelphia 76ers to even the Eastern Conference semifinal series at 2-2. It wasn't Young's most efficient game -- he was 8-of-26 from the field -- but he still finished with 25 points and 18 assists as Atlanta rallied from as many as 18 points down in the first half and 13 down at the break, marking the largest halftime deficit the Hawks have overcome in the playoffs since 1963, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.

Young said he first hurt the shoulder in Game 3 on Friday, but noted: "I wasn't gonna tell nobody anyways other than the training staff" because he was adamant he would play in Game 4. He was not listed on the injury report prior to Game 4.

"He was missing some shots that he normally makes, and the ball wouldn't fall for him," McMillan said. "He's a tough kid. I thought he established the tempo that we needed to get a win tonight. I thought he established that tempo early in the game. His shot started to eventually fall for him. He missed some shots, and it could've been the shoulder -- I really don't know. But some of those same shots he missed in the first half, he started to knock down in the second half."

Like throughout the season, as Young heated up, so did the Hawks. He started the game by missing all five of his shots in the first quarter, including three 3-point attempts. With 5 minutes, 5 seconds remaining in the first quarter, Young drew a foul on Sixers center Joel Embiid but slammed his shoulder into him in the process. Young, an 88.6% free throw shooter in the regular season and 92.1% in the playoffs entering Monday, missed both free throws. According to Elias Sports Bureau data, it was just the fifth time this season -- regular season or playoffs -- that Young missed both attempts on a two-shot foul out of 244 chances.

They were the only free throws Young ended up missing, though. He finished the game 6-of-8 from the line, including hitting a pair with 6.6 seconds left to push Atlanta's lead to three.

"It wasn't bothering me," Young said of his shoulder. "It was just fighting through it. Knowing it was kind of sore, I was trying to work it out and keep it warm throughout the game. I'm not blaming my shooting on my arm. I feel like I had a lot of good looks. The shots just weren't going in. I gotta be better at knocking down my shots."

Young's 18 assists were a career playoff high. He said dishing the ball out more wasn't because of the shoulder injury, but because of what Philadelphia's defense was sending at him.

"They are doing a lot of hedging and trapping," Young said. "For me, that's fine. That's good. Now it's all about making the right play and the open pass. That's really pretty much what they did. They were just forcing me to really just give up the ball."

Young had 34 assist opportunities, the most in a playoff game since 2014. And his 18 assists were tied for the second most in a playoff game in Hawks history, joining Mookie Blaylock, Spud Webb and Doc Rivers, who actually holds the team's playoff record for assists in a game with 22.

And while Young's shot wasn't falling early, he still managed to become just the sixth player in NBA history to score at least 20 points in each of his first nine playoff games, joining Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (27), LeBron James (19), Anthony Davis (16), George Gervin (12) and Derrick Coleman (10), according to ESPN Stats & Information research.

Monday was just a continuation of what has been a historic start to Young's playoff career. His scoring average (28.3 points per game) is sixth best for a player in his first nine playoff games, and his assist average (10.7) is fifth best in that same stretch.

In the end, shoulder taped up and all, Young helped the Hawks come back from their largest deficit in a playoff game in the past 25 seasons.

"We've been fighting all year," Young said. "We've been fighting all year and this team never gives up, no matter what the score is throughout the game. We know it's a long game. The NBA is a long game. It's a 48-minute game. For us, it was just staying level-headed throughout the whole game. Every team is gonna make runs. I love the way we fight, and I'm proud of our team tonight."

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