Trae Young has most unfitting end to his season

Hawks guard Trae Young is alone with his thoughts as the Milwaukee Bucks celebrate their 118-107 victory in Game 6 of the NBA Eastern Conference Finals, as they advance to play for a championship.   “Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com”

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

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Hawks guard Trae Young is alone with his thoughts as the Milwaukee Bucks celebrate their 118-107 victory in Game 6 of the NBA Eastern Conference Finals, as they advance to play for a championship. “Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com”

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

How un-Trae Young was Trae Young in the Hawks’ final game of a season that didn’t want to die?

Put it this way, for the majority of Saturday’s Eastern Conference final Game 6, the Hawks’ past outperformed its future. How utterly unfair. In a postseason devoid of ignominy for this team, lacking all the usual only-in-Atlanta complaints, that cut uncomfortably close.

To be specific, that would be Bucks backup guard Jeff Teague, a Hawks relic dating to their only other trip to these heights, outperforming Young for the majority of the night. For those still keeping score, it was Teague going for 11 points in 12 minutes to Young’s 14 points in 35 minutes.

For all the noise Young has made this past month – the eight 30-plus-point games in the postseason, the elegant bow at midcourt of Madison Square Garden, the 48-point masterpiece to open this series against the Bucks, the anointment of superstardom by Reggie Miller during TNT’s national broadcast – this was a most inappropriately hushed way to go out.

Returning from injury, Young could do little Saturday to turn the series around and force a Game 7 back in Milwaukee, as the Hawks faded in the second half and were ousted by the Bucks 118-107.

For Young, there just was no magic left in those skinny legs. The Hawks would make one last push – of course they wouldn’t leave without one – cutting the Bucks’ lead to six points with 3:41 left. But Young had nothing to give afterward, missing a 3-pointer, coming up short on a pair of drives to the basket, even missing the front end of two free throws before he was lifted with all the other starters with 39 seconds left.

“The (postgame) message was no regrets,” Hawks interim coach Nate McMillan said. “We don’t want any regrets after this game tonight, and we leave everything we have out on the floor, and that’s what I saw from Trae. The fact that he hasn’t done anything on the floor since the injury – this was the first time that he has done anything live on the floor – so he was gassed.”

Young, of course, had a legit excuse, more than one, really, between the injury to his foot and the inactivity forced upon him because of it. Since suffering the injury in Game 3, Young had done no kind of basketball movement, not even during the team’s shootaround Saturday morning. His first real test of the foot was when he brought the ball up to begin the first quarter Saturday.

And it showed. His first trip up-court ended with a turnover, as he lost his grip on the ball after trying to pull back a contested shot. Young finished with five turnovers to nine assists.

His first shot, a launch from 33 feet just 74 seconds into the game had no chance. Young ended his season on a 4-of-17 shooting night, 0-for-6 from 3.

As Young came out late in the quarter, his exasperation was evident, burying his head momentarily in a nearby seat. “It was just frustrating,” Young said, “being rusty early on. It was just me being rusty, and I was mad I was making some feeble-minded mistakes.”

He only partially redeemed the excuse afterward.

“You know me, I don’t use injury as an excuse,” he said. “For me, my bruise is on my heel, (affecting) all my pushing off my right foot. There’s not anything that could really damage it worse, but it was more pain tolerance and just fighting through the pain. When I was running, I knew it wasn’t going to get worse, but I could feel it. You could feel pain in it. That’s all it was.”

Despite the tough loss and the frustration of playing hurt, Young had plenty upbeat to say regarding his future in tandem with the Hawks.

“We’ve accomplished so much this year, but just the guys in the locker room, the young guys, we all understand that this is just the beginning,” he said.

“We have the pieces,” Young added. “We’ve got the talent, and we’ve got guys that you see we can do it, and you see the flashes that we can do it. It’s just hard. This (stuff) is hard. It’s not easy. (The Bucks) have been here multiple times before and haven’t been able to take that next step, and I think for us being able to go through this for a first time early, I mean, it’s really good for us. I think it will only help us.”

As he left the State Farm Arena floor for the last time this season, headed for the locker room, Young had one final gift for the fans.

Pointing to his floor, he yelled, “We’ll be back.”

“I meant that with my whole heart,” he confirmed later.