The Trae Young shoulder mystery has happy ending

Hawks guard Trae Young comes back in the game during the 4th quarter with his arm and shoulder iced down against the Philadelphia 76ers in game 4 of their NBA Eastern Conference semifinals series on Monday, Jun 14, 2021, in Atlanta.
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Hawks guard Trae Young comes back in the game during the 4th quarter with his arm and shoulder iced down against the Philadelphia 76ers in game 4 of their NBA Eastern Conference semifinals series on Monday, Jun 14, 2021, in Atlanta.

Credit: Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com

Worrisome sign No. 1: When Hawks beating-heart guard Trae Young shows up to start a game with his right shoulder done up in kinesiology tape. Generally, a person doesn’t wear that as merely a fashion accessory or to proclaim to the world that he signed a major adhesive sponsorship deal overnight.

“When he took off his warm-up,” said Hawks coach Nate McMillan late Monday, harkening to the moments before that night’s playoff meeting with Philadelphia, “it was the first that I saw that. I haven’t gotten a report that he has an injury there, but obviously there is something going on with his shoulder there. He hasn’t complained, and I haven’t gotten a report that they were treating his shoulder.”

Worrisome sign No. 2: When Trae Young’s floater looks more like a Drew Smyly slider finishing several feet short of its target.

Worrisome sign No. 2A (and perhaps a sign of the apocalypse): When Trae Young finishes a first half with a worse free-throw percentage (zero point zero zero on two attempts) than the 76ers Dwight Howard (1-for-2 from the line).

“He was missing some shots that he normally makes; the ball wouldn’t fall for him. But he stuck with it,” McMillan said.

Then, ultimately all that mattered in the end, turning those nagging little doubts to dust: When it mattered most, Young either scored or assisted on the Hawks’ final 13 points Monday in their back-from-the brink 103-100 victory over the 76ers. The Eastern Conference semifinal series is tied 2-2 and en route to a Game 5 in Philadelphia on Wednesday.

What Young may lack in communication skills – he said he kept the ache in his shoulder to himself since it became more bothersome after Game 3 – he made up for in grit at the finish.

As to his coach’s reaction when seeing his star guard’s shooting shoulder trussed up in tape, Young said, “He kinda gave me a look. He didn’t know about it. I told him I’m fine, I’m good. Let’s go play. Let’s go win.”

“I didn’t know (about the soreness),” teammate Kevin Huerter said afterward. “Trae is someone who feels he’s always available. It seems like he’s dinged up with different stuff, but he doesn’t show it. We were confident he was going to be out there, especially in a game like this.”

Young wouldn’t give the ache a name. “It’s just sore; don’t know how to explain it to you,” he said.

Nor would he blame the shoulder for obvious shooting problems early Monday. There was no hiding the issue physically – as in addition to the tape, his shoulder was wrapped in a large heating pad while he rested on the bench. And it seemed to show itself on the stat sheet. Young began the first quarter 0-for-5 from the field and finished the half only 3-for-12. The majority of the problems seemed to come on touch shots around the basket, as he made only 1 of 7 shots from in close.

“I’m not blaming my shooting on my arm. I felt like I had a lot of good looks, and the shots just weren’t going in. I got to be better at knocking down my shots,” he said afterward. Young finished with a hard-earned 25 points on 8-of-26 shooting from the field (3-of-11 from beyond the arc).

Still at the eight-minute mark, when he returned to the game after the training staff had unwrapped Young’s shoulder like a tin of Pillsbury dough for the last time, he came through. The famed floater was back, two of them gently falling down the stretch. After missing his only two free throws of the first half, he made his last four – the Hawks’ last four points of the night. Young was shouldering the load, as he was meant to do.

“He’s a tough kid,” McMillan said. “I thought he established the tempo that we needed to get a win tonight. I thought he established that tempo early in the game and stayed with it. His shot eventually started to fall for him. He missed some shots. It could have been the shoulder, I really don’t know. Those same shots he missed in the first half he started to knock down in the second.”

“It was all adrenalin at that point. I’m feeling (the shoulder) a little bit more now, probably feel it a little bit more tomorrow,” Young said postgame. “I’ll get treatment tomorrow. In the game, in the moment, I didn’t feel it.”

Who knows how Young will be feeling Wednesday by game time? Guess he’ll let us know then.

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