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Hawks' guard Trae Young is having a star turn in NBA postseason debut

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Trae Young stewed as he watched the NBA resume last season in the Orlando.

Excluded from the bubble because of Atlanta’s 20-47 record, Young watched others relish their playoff opportunity.

Young craved those moments in meaningful playoff basketball games, and he wanted to shed a perceived image of a stat-focused YouTube highlight or a Twitter meme with those long-distance 3s and nifty passes.

He turned that frustration into motivation, and through four games of this season’s playoffs, Young has crafted the beginnings of an impressive playoff resume.

In Game 1 of the Hawks’ first-round series against the New York Knicks, Young had 32 points and 10 assists, becoming the fourth player alongside Derrick Rose, Chris Paul and LeBron James to record at least 30 points and 10 assists in their playoff debut. Young and James are the only two players to have at least 30 points, 10 assists and five rebound in their first playoff game.

“The higher the level is, the more I get ready for it,” Young said. “This is just it. It’s the stage. It’s the best basketball in the world. You’re in the playoffs in the NBA, and it’s my first time and I’m realizing it. I’m just trying to have fun and embrace the moment.”

The Hawks have a 3-1 series lead and can advance to the second round with a victory in Game 5 on Wednesday (7:30 p.m. ET, TNT) at Madison Square Garden where the Hawks won Game 1.

Young is averaging 27.5 points, 10 assists and just 2.8 turnovers.

“Those are great numbers that we want to see, and we expect to see,” Hawks interim coach Nate McMillan said. “He’s good enough to put those numbers up.”

Trae Young (11) has averaged 27.5 points in leading the Hawks to a 3-1 series over the Knicks in his playoff debut.
Trae Young (11) has averaged 27.5 points in leading the Hawks to a 3-1 series over the Knicks in his playoff debut.

The 22-year-old Young professed a commitment to winning when the Hawks had a mini-camp in late September while the playoffs were wrapping up in Orlando.

“Winning is my main key,” he said. “Y’all will probably hear me talk about that all year, asking me about individual things — individual stats, individual accolades — you’re going to get the same answer all year. My main focus going into my third year is winning.”

And when the Hawks convened for training camp in December, Young said, “Whatever is necessary and whatever needs to be done for us to win, I’m going to do.”

That meant sacrifices for Young — fewer shots and minutes per game and better shot selection.

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The Hawks did not take a direct line from last season’s finish to this season’s fifth-place finish.

Atlanta started the season 14-20 and in 11th place in the Eastern Conference, resulting in the dismissal of Coach Lloyd Pierce and the elevation of McMillan to interim head coach. The Hawks won eight consecutive games after McMillan took over, improving offensively and defensively. Atlanta finished 27-11 with McMillan — the third-best winning percentage in the final six weeks of the season.

McMillan brought more structure to the offense, calling more plays from the sideline and implementing more movement, freeing up shooters for better shots. But he relies on Young to make it work.

Young’s scoring and 3-point shooting dropped under McMillan, who gave Young more options with shooters Bogdan Bogdanovic, John Collins, Danilo Gallinari and Kevin Huerter, Clint Capela at the rim and Lou Williams off the bench.

Trae Young (11) has improved his efficiency under interim coach Nate McMillan.
Trae Young (11) has improved his efficiency under interim coach Nate McMillan.

“He’s the guy who’s controlling everything out there, and he’s showing growth at managing and running a team,” McMillan said. “He’s showing trust and giving the ball to Bogi and getting Bogi opportunities and Dre opportunities and JC and Clint and getting those guys involved. He’s keeping all those guys involved while continuing to stay aggressive, and he’s making good reads.”

Said Young of Atlanta’s style: “So much fun. I don’t how much more I can say. It’s so much fun playing with these guys.”

This is the moment Young wanted, and now he has it, making the most of it.

“Because I’ve had so much preparation,” he explained. “I’ve worked extremely hard to get to this position, and I’ve prepared — it feels like — my whole life for this stage and these moments. It’s all about the hard work I put in behind the scenes. It makes it easier for the game, and the preparation is where it starts.”

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Hawks guard Trae Young is having a star turn in NBA playoffs debut