Yes, Atlanta, there is life on the court without Trae Young.
It is a strange, alternate universe kind of existence, where John Collins works the boring end of the ally-oop, where the three-time sixth man of the year sets the tone from the start, where Kevin Huerter co-opts the floater and where the sore (Bogdan Bogdanovic) shall soar.
But, more importantly, it appears the Hawks also can win in this uncomfortable world.
As the bruised Young watched from courtside, a man of fashionable mystery beneath his dark hood, the Hawks stunned Milwaukee 110-88 Tuesday in Game 4 and tied their conference-final series at two games apiece.
It took a village to sub in for Young, who injured his foot in Game 3 and was ruled out Tuesday shortly before tip. And the whole darn town showed up.
By the first three minutes of the game, four different Hawks had scored. John Collins had but four points all night and it mattered not one bit, as six other Hawks got into double figures. Where Collins has been the beneficiary of so many alley-oop lobs from Young, now it was his turn to fill in as the initiator. His big moment, just three minutes in, consisted of throwing up the pass that Clint Capela finished with great flourish.
“All of these guys are capable of playing, and when a guy is out or off the floor, we still expect our guys or that five that is out on the floor to execute the game plan, execute the defensive end of the floor, execute on the offensive end of the floor,” said a very matter-of-fact Hawks coach Nate McMillan.
“So,” he added, “it really shouldn’t change much as far as what we’re doing out there. Now, you’ve got different guys doing some things, but these guys have shown they’re capable of handling the ball, making plays, making reads, and I thought tonight on both sides of the ball we were connected for 48 minutes.”
Credit: Curtis Comptonfirstname.lastname@example.org
Credit: Curtis Comptonemail@example.com
Or as Lou Williams, the consummate sixth man charged with stepping in to start for Young, succinctly put it, “We’re pros, too. We know how to play basketball, as well.”
He did expand on that thought: “I think that’s the difference between the guys in the locker room and everybody else. When Trae goes down, we still feel like we’re confident in our abilities as players, as well. Obviously, Trae is a major part of what we do, but we feel really good about the things that we bring to the table, and sometimes you’ve got to band together and create success. I think tonight was one of those nights where everybody played well, everybody chipped in a little more than usual, including myself, and we bridged that gap that Trae brings.”
Once news broke that Young was definitely out of this one, Las Vegas shuddered. At around 7:50 p.m. the Hawks instantly went from 6 ½-point underdogs to 9-point dogs. Just the kind of sucker play that gets this team percolating.
Meet the cast that punished the chalk bettor:
First it was Williams’ job to start in place of Young. Since being brought back to the Hawks in late March, Williams had started one other game here (and three with the Los Angeles Clippers earlier this season). His resume is stuffed with 1,067 games played in the NBA over 16 seasons, but just 122 starts. And zero starts in 92 previous playoff games. He didn’t appear lost or disoriented at all coming out with the other starters amid the fireworks and ear-splitting introductions.
While on the training table pregame, Williams was informed by McMillan that he was starting. History will not record it as a dramatic moment. “Nate walked up, said Trae is going to be out, so I’m going to start you, I said okay, and he walked off. That was the conversation,” Williams said.
The inherent pressure of filling in for Young seemed to amuse Williams afterward. “In situations like that, from a fan’s perspective, I’m sure everybody is like, ‘Oh, hell, Trae is out’, and so it kind of puts me in a position that I have to play well in order for everybody not to boo me. You know what I mean?” he said. But after scoring 21 points and chipping in eight assists to just a single turnover, there was no booing within State Farm Arena. Just a lot of “Louuuu-ing.”
Hawks 110, Bucks 88 (box score)
Then there were the other guards.
Out of sorts this entire series with an angry knee, Bogdan Bogdanovic was the picture of orthopaedic health this night. In Young’s absence, the Hawks needed a full-boogey Bogey and they got it – 20 points, his 3-point shot re-emerging (6 of 14).
Then there was Huerter, showing both a much-needed adeptness with the ball (seven assists) as well as the kind of touch around the basket for which Young and his floater are famous (12 of Huerter’s 15 points came on some rather nifty forays inside the arc).
“We got great ball movement tonight, all the things that we talked about,” McMillan said. “We needed it and we got that tonight. It started with our guards.”
The Bucks had their own injury problems and neither the Hawks nor their fans showed a scintilla of mercy. After Milwaukee star Giannis Antetokounmpo was helped off the floor in the third quarter with a reported hyperextended knee, the Hawks scored the next 15 points.
“You don’t want to be the guys that let them off the hook because Giannis was off the floor,” Williams said. “I think we all felt that energy and we just ratcheted up our energy and continued to go.”
As far as the important injured Hawk, there can be no certainty now about Young’s condition for Game 5 in Milwaukee Thursday. But the Hawks now have proof they can operate for at least one night in a world without him.