Bad enough that Milwaukee has sicced Jrue Holiday and assorted other angry stags on Trae Young in this conference final. Now the arbiters are beating him up, too. For in Sunday’s Game Three it was a sixth man, if inadvertently, who was key to stopping the Hawks star guard.
With the third quarter winding down and the Hawks holding a tenuous three-point lead, Young wrenched his right ankle after stepping on the foot of referee Sean Wright. Near the sideline, Young had been pivoting to head up-court on defense, with Wright just behind him, and just out of bounds.
Young sat on the court for a long while in disbelief before heading back to the locker room to be attended to. He returned for the fourth quarter with an obvious limp and was a shadow of the player who already had banked 32 points through the first three quarters. The Hawks were outscored 30-17 in the final quarter – with Young managing but three more points – and thereupon lost the game 113-102.
“We had the lead, were doing good, had a lot of momentum on our side. . . just freakin’ bad accident,” Young said.
Processing any injury can be difficult, but doubly so when it happens in such a uniquely bizarre fashion.
“All my injuries (actually not all, but most) have been because I’ve stepped on somebody’s foot,” Young said after the game, still incredulous. “It’s been a tough thing I’ve got to deal with. I’ve got to be more mindful of where people’s feet are. I guess I have to have eyes in back of my head to watch the out of bounds line with these refs.”
The shoulder tape apparent during the Philadelphia series is gone. But now order more ankle tape for Young. One way or another it appears that he will have to get through this postseason held together by the athletic equivalent of spit and baling wire.
This has been the weak of freakish injuries to Atlanta-based sporting prodigies. Thursday, it was Braves pitcher Mike Soroka re-tearing his Achilles just walking into the clubhouse. And now this, Young clipping a ref, the game turning not on the man’s whistle but rather his footwear.
Maybe it would have been understandable had Young tripped over a rapper or other celebrity on the Hawks sideline. They lounge from endline to endline in these big games at State Farm Arena. But this, it beggars belief.
Worse yet Sunday for Hawks followers, Young was in the midst of a redemptive performance after his last stinker in Milwaukee. He was on a mission.
“I don’t want to have two bad games in a row,” he said. “I know it’s going to happen sometimes. In the NBA you play a lot of games and you’re going to have bad nights and off shooting nights. I had a terrible Game Two. I just didn’t want to let my teammates down like I did in Game Two. I wanted to play hard for them and try to bounce back in a better way.”
And bouncing back he was. His aim was true again as the 32 points through three quarters attested (he scored but 15 Friday in Milwaukee). As importantly, he was back in control of the Hawks offense, committing only three turnovers through the first three quarters. He had nine over the errant course of Game Two.
“I thought he was doing a good job. He was scoring for us, I thought he came out aggressive, was able to see the ball go in the basket tonight early and I thought that gave us a spark,” Hawks coach Nate McMillan said. “He was his old self, being really aggressive, attacking the pick and roll. When they gave him space, he was able to knock down a couple of 3s.
“I liked the fact that he was aggressive and trying to establish that tempo that we wanted to play at.”
Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@
Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@
But trying to play in the fourth, Young was a race car driving on a flat. As he described it, he was robbed of his “blow-by speed.”
Hitting a 3 early in the fourth compelled Young to hang in there and see what he could make of the closing quarter. But his lone make of the quarter was a mirage.
“I wanted to go out and at least try,” he said. “I got out there and hit my first three and everybody feels I should be out there and keep fighting at least. That’s something I tried to do, keep fighting.”
Said McMillan, who played Young from the 8:44 mark of the fourth quarter until just 51 seconds left in the game, “Once he got out there, I saw that he wasn’t moving well. When I took him out the last few seconds, he couldn’t go back. I was looking to rotate him offense/defense, and he couldn’t go back.”
It’s another quick turnaround for the Hawks and their gimpy guard, with Game 4 awaiting Tuesday. An MRI on the injury and a day of treatment awaits Young, whose status figures to determine any chance the Hawks have of reasserting themselves in this series.
Memo to the Hawks athletic training staff: Better order a lot more tape.
Game 1: Hawks 116, Bucks 113
Game 2: Bucks 125, Hawks 91
Game 3: Bucks 113, Hawks 102
Game 4, Tuesday, June 29: Bucks at Hawks, 8:30 p.m., TNT
Game 5, Thursday, July 1: Hawks at Bucks, 8:30 p.m., TNT
Game 6*, Saturday, July 3: Bucks at Hawks, 8:30 p.m., TNT
Game 7*, Monday, July 5: Hawks at Bucks, 8:30 p.m., TNT
* — If necessary
About the Author