A Trae of Two Cities: Young struggles late as Hawks are eliminated

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

A Trae of Two Cities: It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.

It was Trae Young who forced another game in the Eastern Conference series against the Celtics with one of the biggest shots in franchise history, a 3-pointer in the final seconds of Game 5 in Boston. The best of times.

The season ended as Young struggled in the second half on Thursday night in a 128-120 loss to the Celtics in Game 6 at home in Atlanta. The worst of times.

For Young, it was a tale of two halves in the deciding game. The guard scored 25 points in the first half, 18 of which came in the first quarter, on 8 of 15 shooting. However, in the second half, Young managed just five points on 1-of-13 shooting as the Hawks faded in key moments down the stretch at lost the series, 4-2.

“Marcus (Smart) was being more aggressive and he wasn’t leaving me as much to go and help,” Young said on the difference in the two halves. “Early in the first half, they were playing more team defense and I was able to catch the play with a live dribble and attack right away and create some space that way. In the second half, he was more connected to me. When I didn’t have the ball, he was still facing me and still connected to me. They just picked up the physicality.”

Young had a rough fourth quarter as the Celtics broke open a close game in the final minutes. Young was 0-of-7 in the final period.

With the Hawks leading 113-110 with 6:24 remaining, the Celtics went on a decisive 11-0 run. Jaylen Brown, Al Horford and Jayson Tatum hit back-to-back-to-back 3-pointers. Tatum added a put-back dunk and the Celtics led by eight, 121-113, with 2:07 remaining. Young missed two 3-pointers and two drives to the basket during the Celtics’ run.

“They started trapping him a little bit,” Hawks coach Quin Snyder said. “We got (Dejounte Murray) back in the game to give us another ball handler against the trap. He had a couple of his best looks late. I don’t think he was worn down or tired. Occasionally guys miss shots. In Trae’s case, we are used to seeing him hit big shots. He hit some big shots too, to get us that position.”

Young kept the Hawks in the game, which featured 22 lead changes and 15 ties, in the first half. He was 5 of 10, including 3 of 6 from 3-point range, in the opening quarter.

The final loss doesn’t land squarely on the shoulders of Young. Murray was held scoreless in the first half. The bench combined to score just 30 points. The Celtics’ dynamic duo of Tatum and Brown took over late with key baskets, rebounds and blocks.

After the game, Young didn’t want to look back – even after a tumultuous season that had featured front office and coaching changes and a record that stayed near .500 for much of the year. Hope was found in pushing the favored Celtics.

“We could even not have made the playoffs,” Young said. “It could have been worse. We’ve got to focus on the future now. We can’t worry about the past and what all went on through the season and all that, all the nonsense. We’ve got to focus on the future and what we’ve got going. I think we showed strides. I think we showed what we can do with Quin as our coach. I’m excited for the future.”