I usually cover games that feature two stout squads with records to back them up (save for my Lakers), but I've been hearing a ton of buzz around this Trae Young-led Hawks team. After looking like a true rookie to start the year, Young has quickly grown into a rookie of the year candidate propped up by explosive scoring outbursts. Couple that with the talent packed Philadelphia 76ers and you had a showdown of the Eastern Conference present versus potential future. Underestimate the Hawks, and you could find yourself in a heap of trouble.
My basketball senses were right on the money tonight. Trae Young and the Atlanta Hawks battled from the opening minute with the stacked Sixers en route to a 127-129 last-second win! Trae Young got the game-winning floater for the victory. Young poured in 32-6-11 in the win with contributions from teammates Taurean Prince (23) and Alex Len(12). Butler (25-6-4), Simmons (21-6-9), and Embiid (27-12-2) all put up nice lines, but the team often looked sluggish in the disheartening loss.
Rhythm Of The Game
Both teams looked pretty competent to kick things off. Tobias Harris was a steady 3/3 from the field for Philly in the early going while Trae Young had 9 on 3/4 from the field. Atlanta's defense slipped in the latter half of the first quarter, which led to a seven-point Philly lead after the first buzzer, 41-34. This was quickly turning into a David and Goliath battle of Young vs. Embiid.
Despite the disadvantage, Trae and the Hawks kept rolling on the way to a 12-2 outburst to take the game back in their hands. Trae Young was totally in his baaaaaag. It was like he was hitting them with every move in every which way: three's, midrange pullups, driving floaters - not to mention he was dishing like a busboy with seven early assists.
I was a little disappointed in the Sixers defense. They were letting a middling Hawks offense chop them up for 70 first half points! You had to wonder if they came in respecting the Hawks as a threat....or maybe they just had too much fun in Atlanta last night. Regardless, we were still being treated to a showcase of Young's offensive skillset. The vigilant Hawks flipped this game on its head en route to a 68-74 halftime lead.
The third quarter began, and defense was nowhere to be found on either side. The Hawks were about to cross the 100-point mark with three minutes left in the quarter! Philly's big four was provided the lion's share of the scoring punch while the Hawks stayed getting production from Trae Young and floor spacers like Alex Len, and Taurean Prince.
It felt like the Hawks were about to run away with it, but a three minute scoring drought at the end of the third allowed Philly to race back into contention. Young teams tend to let their foot off the gas pedal if they're going against a solid team. That's the common trait that separates young, inexperienced teams from the good ones. Our game was all tied up at 100 with the final twelve up ahead.
The Atlanta Hawks played like they realized this though. They upped the ante in the hustle department to keep hold of 2-4 point leads as we crossed over the halfway mark. The deficit stayed the same for a couple more minutes, but the Sixers were coming!
A Jimmy Butler free throw tied it all up at 118. The overall pace slowed down. Offenses reverted to deliberate half court sets that took the majority of the shot clock to run. It was also becoming a battle of free throws, but before we locked into that dreaded pace, Hawks rookie Kevin Hueter got a breakaway halfcourt steal that led to a posterized Jimmy Butler! One-point game with two minutes to play, 121-120.
Trae Young hit an enormous three to retake the lead and go up two on the Sixers, but Jimmy Butler quickly countered with a mad dash of a driving layup. Tie game once again. Trae was clearly feeling himself, so he went right back and pulled up near the logo for a heat check deep three - but it banked and rimmed out! Butler ended up getting to the line on the other end and made two clutch free throws to go back up two on the Hawks.
Atlanta managed to cop another bucket and the ball with three seconds in the entire game. Who else but Trae Young got the ball at center court, then he drove middle for one of his deadly floaters - and it was good! Only .1 left on the clock so the Sixers couldn't do anything. Hawks win on the Trae Young game-winning field goal.
Trae Young is the truth ladies and gentlemen! He struggled mightily with shot selection/efficiency to start the year, but those bad outings led to growth that paid off in the present day. He fell into a great situation for himself with the Hawks in terms of his growth. He gets to be the go-to scorer in a franchise with humble expectations and optimistic, wiling fans. This isn't like the Lakers or the Knicks where everything's under a microscope. A great situation for a promising kid.
What felt like a total bust of a draft for the Hawks in dealing Luka for Young, now looks like it can turn into a sensible trade. The Hawks also got another high draft pick in that trade, so in a sense it was a two-for-one for Luka. That was the rationale according to the Hawks GM Travis Schlenk. Luka has slowed down to end the year, but it still feels like he has the higher ceiling thank Young. This trade has created a rivalry that'll give us years of entertainment to come.
As for the Sixers, they were guilty of doing what a lot of other teams have done this season: they underestimated the Hawks. They're looking toward the postseason already, which starts in a couple weeks, so this loss practically meant nothing. Nothing summarizes their lack of synchronicity than the 74 first half points given up. On Monday, they'll get another test against a feisty, young, inconsistent team in the Orlando Magic. It feels like these two games are "trap games" for the Sixers.
Even though this was a fun game that featured young stars and rising talents, I find myself feeling as apathetic as the Sixers. They're currently the three seed, and they'll probably stay as that until the regular season runs its course. The bottom of the East can still be shuffled around between the Pistons (6), Nets (7), and Heat, but they're currently slated to face Detroit in round one. Out of all those teams, the Nets probably have the highest chance at first round upset potential - albeit not very high. Here's to hopping in a time capsule and fast forwarding until playoff time!