When in the Lou Zone, you leave Williams in the game

Atlanta Hawks' Lou Williams reacts to a call during the second half of Game 1 of first-round playoff series against the New York Knicks, Sunday, May 23, 2021, in New York. (Seth Wenig/AP)

Credit: AP

Combined ShapeCaption
Atlanta Hawks' Lou Williams reacts to a call during the second half of Game 1 of first-round playoff series against the New York Knicks, Sunday, May 23, 2021, in New York. (Seth Wenig/AP)

Credit: AP

This is what Lou Williams does.

ExploreMark Bradley: Trae Young steals the show

And the Hawks needed every bit of the guards scoring, leadership and voice off the bench.

The world wondered why starter Trae Young will still sitting midway through the fourth quarter of Game 1 against the Knicks. Turns out, there was a valid explanation. Young told interim head coach Nate McMillan to leave Williams in the game a little longer as he was in the Lou Zone, scoring in bunches when needed most.

Young would eventually return and hit the game-winning shot, a floater with 0.9 seconds left for a 107-105 victory over the Knicks in the opener of the Eastern Conference first-round playoff series at Madison Square Garden. Big stage, big shot.

“Trae basically said ‘Let him go,’ ” McMillan said. “He was able to keep us close. That’s the role of a backup, to keep the game close or go ahead. He did a good job of scoring, which we know he’s cable of doing. We definitely needed it.”

It was Williams who kept the Hawks in the game during a critical stretch. In all, Williams scored 13 points in 12 minutes.

The Hawks trailed 73-71 heading into the fourth quarter. Williams scored on a layup to tie the game, his seventh straight point. After four straight Knicks points, Williams helped prevent the game from getting away from the Hawks, assisting on a Danilo Gallinari 3-point, to make it a one-point game with 10 minutes remaining.

The Knicks then built an 82-76 and Williams again kept Hawks in the game, finding Bogdan Bogdanovic with a pass for a corner 3-pointer to make it a three-point game.

Williams then scored the Hawks’ next four points, on a layup and a floater to keep the Hawks within a point each time. Williams finally left with 6:58 remaining and the Hawks trailing 86-83. He had scored 11 of the Hawks’ 17 points between the third and fourth quarters, including the run of seven straight.

“Trae has confidence in me, I have confidence in Trae,” Williams said after the Hawks took a 1-0 series lead on the big stage. “That’s what it takes to be a great team, being a team player, understanding when there is an opportunity for another player that has it going to stay in the game and give you an opportunity to win the game. For him to recognize that … he’s showing that he’s ready to take that next step in leading this team and being the guy for us.”

Williams has played a huge role in the success of the Hawks in his second stint with his hometown team. The South Gwinnett High star was acquired at the trade deadline this season. After briefly considering retirement, Williams came back to Atlanta. His veteran leadership and scoring ability has helped the Hawks as they went from a 14-20 record to a now 28-11 mark since McMillan took over. They finished the regular season 41-31 and now have a 1-0 series lead.

Williams played just as a big a role in the playoff victory while on the bench. He told Young with the game on the line, in so many words: This is your team, go win the basketball game.

“I’m in like the fourth phase of my career,” Williams said. “It was kind of surreal for me to watch. It’s been a long time since I’ve watched big moments in the playoffs. For me to have an opportunity to watch it, being in a different position than I’m usually in, and try to help these guys with whatever insight I have and help them down the stretch, it was exciting, it was different and it was fun for me.”