Young stayed down for a couple of minutes. Then he went to the locker room. He returned to the bench at the start of the fourth quarter. He re-entered the game with 8:44 remaining and the Hawks up five.
Inside the final six minutes, Young answered a Middleton 3-pointer with the shot that gave the Hawks their last lead. Middleton hit from the baseline to re-tie it. Young hoisted a trey that smacked off the backboard. Middleton hit again. Young missed on a drive. Giannis Antetokounmpo scored on a fadeaway. Soon the Bucks were up by 10 and Young was back on the bench.
“I was told he could go when he came back out,” Hawks coach Nate McMillan said. “I saw he wasn’t moving well. He couldn’t go back in (after that).”
Said Young: “It’s sore right now. I couldn’t really go as fast as I wanted to, and when I did it really hurt … It was my blow-by speed (that was affected), and that’s a big part of my game.”
Middleton finished with 38 points. He’d scored a total of 30 in Games 1 and 2, missing 14 of 16 trey tries. He’s a good player, and it figured the Hawks couldn’t hold him down forever. He made six of 12 3-pointers this night, four of six in the fourth quarter. He also had 11 rebounds and seven assists. On a court graced by the great Giannis and the ascendant Ice Trae, Middleton made the difference.
To their credit, the Hawks put themselves in position to win two nights after getting blown out in Milwaukee. They induced turnovers on the visitors’ first three possessions. They led 7-0, then 15-2, then 25-10. Young had 14 points in the first quarter, which featured another bizarre moment when the Bucks left him unguarded. (Just ran away from him!) He hit the resultant 3-pointer and gave another shimmy.
The Hawks couldn’t have asked for much more than this, which soon became – warning: this will sound like doublespeak – a reason for concern. Midway through the second quarter, the Hawks had made 51 percent of their field-goal tries and 50 percent of their 3-pointers. That’s pretty close to a knockout punch. And yet: They led by two points. By halftime they were tied, sub Pat Connaughton hitting a trey from the corner to bring the Bucks even.
During a 15-point third quarter, Young seemed en route to approach the 48 points he’d scored in Game 1. Then he stepped on a ref’s foot. “I guess I’ve got to know where everyone’s feet are,” he said. “I guess I’ve got to have eyes in the back of my head now.”
In the grand scheme, it was encouraging to see Young respond to his worst showing of the postseason – 15 points and nine turnovers in Game 2 – with a return to what has become his new norm. Said McMillan: “This was a time for him to figure out what needed to do. I don’t run to him every time he has a bad game. I thought it was time (for him) to figure it out, and he did.”
Now the Hawks have to find a way to beat a solid opponent three times over the next four games, perhaps with a lessened Young, who said, “I’ll have a MRI tomorrow.” At such a time, those aren’t the most inspirational of words.
Said guard Kevin Huerter: “I really don’t think we’ve played very well in this series. Game 1 we stole in the fourth quarter. Game 2 was a blowout. Tonight we lost.”
Then: “But we were in the same place the last series.”
Which they won in seven. If you’re the Hawks, there’s your rallying cry. But Milwaukee might just be a tad better than Philadelphia. Trae Young needs to heal in a hurry.