If the Atlanta Hawks win once during any of their possible three games left against the New York Knicks during the first round of the NBA playoffs, the team that isn’t the most overrated franchise in professional sports — you know, just because it’s valued by Forbes at a league-high $5 billion and plays in the World’s Most Famous Arena That Really Isn’t — will advance to the second round.
Meet Trae Young and the NBA’s scariest team.
It’s not the Knicks.
Contrary to those who believe the world ends not far from the Statue of Liberty, the Knicks’ history isn’t all of that. Not only do they have just two world championships (the same as the Houston Rockets), but this is their first playoff appearance in eight years. They also haven’t been anything worth mentioning since Patrick Ewing was an NBA player during the latter half of the 20th century instead of a coach these days for the Georgetown Hoyas.
The Hawks have zero NBA titles, and they missed the playoffs during the previous three seasons. In addition, they’re No. 24 on the Forbes’ list of NBA team values at $1.52 billion, but they are more of the present and the future than the Knicks.
Here’s the primary reason the Hawks should frighten even the giants of at least their Eastern Conference (the Brooklyn Nets, the Philadelphia 76ers and the Milwaukee Bucks): Young is their 22-year-old leader. Even though he’s dribbling in his first NBA postseason during his third year in the league, he keeps morphing into a fearless blur of 6-foot-1 and 180 pounds.
“It’s a bigger stage. It’s more, I don’t know,” Young said Sunday in Atlanta, where he produced 27 points and nine assists in just about every possible way imaginable while continuing to replace Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant and Reggie Miller as an accomplished Knick Killer in the playoffs.
“I think the higher the level is, the more I get ready for it. I think this is just it. It’s the stage. It’s the best basketball in the world. I mean, you’re in the playoffs in the NBA, and it’s my first time, and I’m realizing it. I’m just trying to have fun and embrace the moment. So, I’m just having fun.”
The same for the rest of the gifted Hawks, now up 3-1 in this best-of-seven series, with a slew of shooters, rebounders and defenders who spent Sunday afternoon at loud and crazy State Farm Arena blowing away their opponent 113-96 in Game 4.
Sorry Spike Lee and your Madison Square Garden chauvinists, but other NBA arenas are just as friendly to their home team. Take the Hawks, for instance. They’ve won 13 straight in Atlanta, including 21 out of their last 23 for the best home mark in the league since slightly after Valentine’s Day.
This latest blasting of the Knicks ranked with the other comfortable home victories for the Hawks in May (Portland, Phoenix, Orlando, Houston ). They also crushed the Knicks 105-94 Friday night at State Farm Arena in Game 3.
The Hawks lost Game 2 in New York, but that was a fluke. For one of the few times since Nate McMillan went from an assistant coach to their head man on March 1, he blew it. He sat Young too long in the second half, and the Knicks won 101-92 down the stretch after they rallied from a 15-point deficit.
No worries. The No. 5 seed Hawks grabbed home-court advantage from the No. 4 seed Knicks by taking the opener 107-105 at Madison Square Garden. Young foreshadowed his efficient playoff games to come with just two turnovers against the NBA’s best regular-season defense. He also finished with 7 rebounds, 10 assists and 32 points, including the game-winning floater in the lane.
Even so, there was something more striking than those highlights during the start of Young’s coming-out party in the national spotlight. It contributed to the Knicks moving closer to roadkill in the playoffs, with the back of Young’s sneakers all over their carcasses.
It was the Madison Square Garden crowd taunting the Knicks’ new nemesis in waiting before and during Game 1.
Since this is a family friendly space, let’s just say those chanting “F U Trae Young, F U Trae Young, F U Trae Young” weren’t uttering the words “Forgive Unicorns Trae Young, Forgive Unicorns Trae Young, Forgive Unicorns Trae Young.” Worse, during Game 2 in New York, somebody from the lower level spat on the Hawks point guard who declined to press charges.
Young was so intimidated that he left the Madison Square Garden court flashing the “A” sign for Atlanta while laughing into the night.
Game 5 is Wednesday in New York.
That’s when Young and his Hawks could laugh last.
If not, there’s always Game 6 at State Farm, The World’s Most Famous Arena At The Moment When Compared To That Other One.