Trae Young is a superstar.
The 22-year-old point guard scored a game-high 48 points and added 11 assists in a stunning 116-113 come-from-behind upset victory against the Milwaukee Bucks in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals.
In the two-time MVP's house, he outshined Giannis Antetokounmpo, who finished with 34 points, 12 rebounds and nine assists, and one-time All-Star veteran guard Jrue Holiday (33 points, 10 assists, four rebounds). After years of criticism for his statistics hunting and porous defense, Young has proven himself capable of being the best player on the court at every stage of the playoffs, and this one was no different.
"This is his first time in the playoffs, and I really felt he was built for this time of the season," Hawks coach Nate McMillan told reporters after his team's third straight Game 1 win on the road. "He's a fearless player. He's a confident player. He's a kid that every second that he's on the floor, he's giving it to you. He's giving everything that he has. I really feel that his game, his style of play is really built for this time of the season."
The Bucks appeared to have the game in hand when Holiday followed three straight Antetokounmpo buckets with a 3-pointer that capped a 9-0 run to capture a 105-98 lead with 4:18 remaining. Finally, a heavily favored Milwaukee team had seized control of a game they should have won 100 times over.
Only, Young and John Collins had different ideas. They combined to score 17 of Atlanta's final 19 points. Clint Capela's put-back of a Young floater, which gave the Hawks a 112-111 lead they would not relinquish in the final 29.8 seconds, was the sole outlier. Young either scored or assisted 13 of Atlanta's last 16 points.
The Bucks had one chance to regain the lead, and they entrusted it to Pat Connaughton, their seventh-leading scorer, whose wide-open 3-pointer caromed off the rim with 18 seconds still left on the shot clock.
"I have a ton of confidence in Pat," Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said. "Loved the shot."
Young grabbed the rebound and made four free throws down the stretch to keep Milwaukee at bay. All-Star Bucks wing Khris Middleton missed a game-tying attempt at the buzzer to wrap a 6-for-23 shooting night.
Collins (23 points, 15 rebounds) and Capela (12 points, 19 rebounds) both registered monster double-doubles for the Hawks. Kevin Huerter (13 points) was Atlanta's only other player to score in double figures.
The Bucks got 67 combined points from their two best players, scored 70 points in the paint and outscored their opponents' quality depth off the bench, and yet the Hawks still managed to leave with the victory.
Milwaukee took a nine-point lead early in the second quarter, looking like the team that won 64% of its games, registered a top-five offense during the regular season and owned the best defense of the playoffs. But there was Young again, hitting back-to-back deep 3-pointers against defenders who inexplicably skirted underneath screens against him. For all they had done right, the Bucks merely led 59-54 at the half.
"We talked about changing up the looks," said Budenholzer. "I think we've probably got to do more."
Young treated Fiserv Forum like his own personal playground in the third quarter, throwing a lob in traffic off the backboard to Collins for a dunk and shimmying his shoulders before drilling a wide-open 3-pointer his handle created. Both plays came during a 17-7 run that flipped a 71-69 deficit into an eight-point edge.
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"When I was going on the road in middle school, I always loved playing on the road," Young told reporters after his performance. "I loved playing against the opposing crowd, an opposing team. It feels like you're really just with your team, and it's just them in the building. I think that really brings our group together."
The Hawks totaled 62 points in the second half and shot just 3 for 14 from distance. The onslaught could have been worse. Atlanta was also down a starter and a half. De'Andre Hunter (knee surgery) is out for the remainder of the season, and Bogdan Bogdanovic (1-6 FG) was playing through his own knee soreness.
"He does not want to sit out," said McMillan. "He's trying to give us whatever minutes he can give us."
It is Young who refused to let Atlanta lose, and it was Young who was considered incapable of leading a winner in the not-so-distant past. That narrative has been rewritten. Trae Young is a bona fide superstar.
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