Trae Young saves Hawks, stuns Celtics by ‘owning the moment’

Hawks avoid elimination in Game 5
Atlanta Hawks guard Trae Young, center, drives to the basket against Boston Celtics guard Marcus Smart (36) and center Al Horford (42) during the first half of Game 5 in a first-round NBA basketball playoff series Tuesday, April 25, 2023, in Boston. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

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Atlanta Hawks guard Trae Young, center, drives to the basket against Boston Celtics guard Marcus Smart (36) and center Al Horford (42) during the first half of Game 5 in a first-round NBA basketball playoff series Tuesday, April 25, 2023, in Boston. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

BOSTON — In case anyone forgot what Trae Young can do in the playoffs, the Hawks star provided a reminder on Tuesday night at TD Garden.

The Celtics had made it hard for Young in this Eastern Conference playoff series. With his team facing elimination in Game 5, Young rediscovered his 2021 postseason form. There was the fearless shot-making, the superb playmaking and the ability to be the best player on the floor even though he’s the smallest.

Young stunned the Celtics with a 3-pointer that sent the Hawks to a 119-117 victory in Boston. Dejounte Murray had been Atlanta’s best player in the series. He was suspended for Game 5, so the Hawks needed Young to carry them.

He did it by scoring his team’s final 14 points, including the dagger from 30 feet with 2.8 seconds to go.

“I’ve been owning the moment my whole life,” Young said. “That’s what I do. I’ve worked too hard to be afraid of the moment.”

Young’s big moment was the climax of a brilliant performance. He finished with 38 points and 14 assists. He outscored the Celtics 14-6 over the final three-plus minutes. Young never came out of the game in the second half and, once he got going late, the Celtics couldn’t stop him.

It took more than Young for the Hawks to win. Several of his teammates made plays each time it seemed as if the Celtics, favored by 13 ½ points, were on their way to the expected blowout. But it was Young who delivered at winning time.

“They were just telling me to be aggressive,” Young said of his teammates. “They wanted me to take over, and so I just tried to do for them.”

Young did it. Now there’s pressure on the Celtics for Game 6 on Thursday at 8:30 p.m. at State Farm Arena.

Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum reacts during Game 5 in the first round of the NBA basketball playoffs, Tuesday, April 25, 2023, in Boston. The Atlanta Hawks defeated the Boston Celtics 119-117. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

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The Celtics blew a chance to finish the best-of-seven series at home, where they had dominated Hawks in Games 1 and 2. Now the Celtics must go back to Atlanta, where they lost Game 3. Murray will be back in the lineup after serving a one-game suspension for bumping an official following Atlanta’s Game 4 loss.

After the Celtics led 109-96 in Game 5 with six minutes to play, the Hawks outscored them 23-8. Atlanta tied the game when Young stole the ball from Marcus Smart and then ran off a screen to a 3-pointer. The Hawks gained their first lead of the second half when Young made three free throws with 1:39 to play.

Two of those free throws were awarded because of a foul on Young and one was because Jayson Tatum was called for a technical. Now the Hawks suddenly were up 114-113. The Celtics regained the lead on Robert Williams’ alley-oop dunk with 25.1 seconds to go. Smart knocked the ball away from Young near midcourt but fouled him while diving for it. Young made both free throws.

On Boston’s next possession, Derrick White drove to the basket. Young tried to draw a charge but was called for a blocking foul. White made both free throws to give Boston a 117-116 lead with 7.1 seconds left. The Hawks called timeout, and everyone in the arena knew what was coming.

Hawks coach Quin Snyder’s instructions to Young: “I told him try to get to the rim if you can but, if you have space, just be instinctive with making a play. We all believe in you.”

Young went into the backcourt to collect the inbound pass with Boston’s Jaylen Brown in pursuit. Brown backpedaled as Young dribbled the ball into Atlanta’s end of the floor. Young said he was looking to get to the rim, but Brown cut off that option by playing him to drive.

“At that point, I looked up, and it was only like three, four seconds left, maybe two,” Young said. “So I decided to trust in what I’ve done my whole life.”

Young went to his signature step-back jumper. It splashed through the net and quieted the crowd. A few minutes earlier Celtics fans had directed a vulgar chant at Young.

Atlanta Hawks guard Trae Young (11) takes the game-winning shot over Boston Celtics guard Jaylen Brown (7) during the final seconds of Game 5 in a first-round NBA basketball playoff series Tuesday, April 25, 2023, in Boston. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

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The scene was reminiscent of the 2021 playoffs, when Knicks fans at Madison Square Garden taunted Young with the same crude heckles.

“In the Knicks series, they started at 10 minutes in the first quarter,” Young said, smiling. “It was a lot different than tonight. I think that’s just a sign of respect. They ain’t doing it to everybody, you know I’m saying.”

The Celtics had a chance to win after Young’s big shot. The Hawks batted away Boston’s first attempt to throw the ball inbounds, leaving just 0.5 seconds on the clock. Then Tatum missed a heave at the buzzer.

The Hawks had secured an improbable victory at TD Garden. Young was the star, but he had plenty of help.

John Collins, who’d been awful in this series, scored 22 points. Bogdan Bogdanovic replaced Murray in the starting lineup and had 18 points with five assists and no turnovers. Reserve center Onyeka Okongwu played more minutes than starter Clint Capela and anchored Atlanta’s defense.

“Everybody really just stepped up a little bit more, and that’s what we needed tonight to get the win,” Young said. “And now that we’re getting ‘DJ’ back for Game 6, we still got to be at that level, because they are a really good team. So we got to be ready to play.”

The Celtics need to be ready for Young. They’d pretty much handled him for during this series, but in Game 5 Young reminded everyone what he can do in the playoffs.

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