The stage was not too big for Taurean Prince.
The Hawks rookie started Game 1 of the Eastern Conference first-round playoff series against the Wizards and held his own under the bright lights of the postseason.
Several Hawks veterans said before the series that nothing could prepare the young player for the playoffs. It wouldn’t be like anything he encountered during the regular season.
“It was high intensity,” Prince said Tuesday after the Hawks’ practice on the campus of Georgetown University. “I’m a high intensity guy. I compete. I definitely felt it. It took me a bit to get settled in. Once I get settled, I got more comfortable and felt good.”
Prince finished with 14 points on 6-of-11 shooting, including 2-of-4 from 3-point range. He made a corner 3-pointer that pulled the Hawks within five points with two minutes remaining in an eventual 114-107 series-opening loss. Prince also had six rebounds, an assist, two turnovers and was a minus-4.
Prince will remain in the starting lineup for Game 2 on Wednesday.
“I think I did all right,” Prince said. “I had a few mistakes defensively that I will continue to correct. And we lost so it doesn’t really matter how I did.”
Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said Prince did “pretty well” and that he just wants him to continue to just play basketball.
The rookie from Baylor has come a long way in his first NBA season. There were 19 Did Not Play-Coach’s Decision in his first 50 professional games. There was also a four-game stint in the NBA Development League.
The turning point of Prince’s season came Feb. 13 in Portland. Prince was a defensive presence in the Hawks’ 109-104 overtime victory over the Trail Blazers. Prince got a key steal with 6.4 seconds remaining and another steal and two free throws with 2.2. seconds left in the dramatic victory. Paul Millsap sent the game into the extra period with a buzzer-beater to end regulation. Prince played a then career-high 25 minutes, including three minutes in overtime. He finished with five points, five rebounds and three steals for the game.
“He was a big part of us winning that game,” Budenholzer said. “Just understanding what he can do defensively and how he can help us on the defensive end and on the defensive boards. He really hadn’t really played for a long time. That was, for sure, the starting point. Then he has grown from that starting point.”
Prince played the final 28 regular-season games from that important moment. He started the final 10 games of the season after an injury to Thabo Sefolosha. He remained with the first unit despite the pressure that comes with the NBA playoffs.
“It’s going well,” Prince said of his NBA journey. “I’m enjoying it. I’m enjoying the process. It’s nothing really new for me. I didn’t play my first two years of college. It’s all about grinding and earning your stripes. Once given the opportunity, you have to take advantage of it or you probably won’t see it again. I plan to keep taking advantage of it.”
Prince help limit Wizards’ small forward Otto Porter Jr. to 10 points, below his 13.4 points per game season average. He’ll need to be a defensive presence in Game 2 as the Hawks’ strategy centers on stopping Wizards’ guard John Wall and Bradley Beal.
While adjusting to the spotlight, Prince has no doubt that he belongs right where he finds himself. He was asked if there was a moment when he knew that he belonged in the NBA.
“Yeah, since I was in college,” the confident Prince said. “I knew I wanted to play in the NBA. I knew I could play in the NBA. It just happens to be for the Atlanta Hawks, which I’m extremely grateful for.”