Trae Young and the young Atlanta Hawks were supposed to be going through the motions and getting in a little bit of playoff experience for their young stars. Young, the third-year point guard and face of the franchise, is currently in his first playoff appearance, but it sure hasn’t looked like it.
After dismantling the New York Knicks 4-1 in the first round, the Hawks took on the mighty Philadelphia 76ers, who were heavily favored considering they were the first seed in the Eastern Conference this season.
The seeds of their series victory were sown in Game 1, when the Hawks stole it in Philadelphia. Things seemed to correct themselves, though, as the Sixers followed that up with two-straight blowout victories to take the 2-1 series lead.
That’s when Atlanta showed all of us what they were made of though, as they came back to escape the next two games. They recovered from an 18-point deficit in Game 4, and then stunned the Sixers by coming back from a 26-point hole in Game 5. That second comeback was even more amazing because with just around 2 minutes left in the third quarter, they were still down 24.
While the Sixers did manage to survive Game 6, it was clear and obvious that the Hawks had no fear of their opponents. The seeds of self-belief had already been planted earlier in the series, and that confidence helped them immensely in Game 7.
Young struggled mightily with his shot in the closing battle, going 5 of 23 from the field to finish with 21 points, 3 rebounds and 10 assists. However, his leadership still played an important role. He got help from the rest of his squad thanks to Kevin Huerter’s 27 points, Danilo Gallinari’s 17, John Collins’ 14 and Clint Capela’s 13.
Bogdan Bogdanovic was the only starter not to hit double-figures, but he looked hampered on the court due to a leg injury.
The Hawks’ path to the Eastern Conference Finals tested their mental fortitude, and they passed with flying colors. After losing Games 2 and 3, it just felt like they decided to refuse to be blown out again.
The next big challenge looming on the horizon is the Milwaukee Bucks, who made the next round with a lot of luck thanks to injuries to Kyrie Irving and James Harden. Their Big Three of Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday are all healthy, which presents a big problem for the Hawks.
At this point, though, it’s clear that the Hawks don’t care about how favored their opponents are. They’ll dog it out and take it game by game. It’s worked for them so far, and it will be fun to see how they do against the Bucks.