Much has been said about this year’s Atlanta Hawks squad – mostly negative. It was valid, though, and it was actually a carryover from last season’s dud, where they failed to make the expected progression from the memorable 2021 run that shockingly had them go to the Eastern Conference Finals.
They barely made the playoffs in 2022, and bowed out in the first round to the Miami Heat in five games – that one win was pretty close too.
This year, more of the same happened, maybe even arguably worse, as the roster got Nate McMillian fired midseason and were consistently mediocre despite adding All-Star two-way point guard Dejounte Murray in the fold. They simply became a straight-up ‘purgatory’ team for the latter half of the season.
Here’s a quick summary how ‘50-50’ they were:
- 41 wins, 41 losses
- 26-26 vs. the East, 15-15 vs. the West
- Scored 118.4 points per game, allowed 118.1 points per game
- Stayed either one game, exact, or under the .500 mark for the last 35 games of the season.
You just didn’t know which Hawks are you going to get, and it continued into the postseason. In the play-in, they scored an upset win on the road vs. Heat to lock themselves into the no. 7 seed against the no. 2 seed Boston Celtics.
Then, two games in, we got reminded why the seedings are the way they were. ATL was easily dispatched with little resistance, losing by double digits on Games 1 and 2. But, because they were consistently inconsistent, ’50-50’ group, it’s the ‘good’ Hawks showed up in Game 3.
As per usual, the Celtics busted through the gates with guns blazing, finishing the first quarter up by four points, 37-33. Fortunately for the Hawks, they were in the mood for a win so they just kept blasting too, and by halftime, they were up, 74-67, thanks to unleashing 41 points in the second frame.
Boston played catch up from there and was unable to keep up. It was cut to two, 118-116, at the 3:02 mark courtesy of an and-1 by Jayson Tatum, but Atlanta kept its poise. Young buried an Al Horford-contested step-back three to make it a five-point lead again, 121-116.
A few plays later, Murray splashed his own trifecta against former San Antonio Spurs teammate Derrick White, who even fell to the ground. Not one to shy away from celebrations, Murray pointed to his ex-comrade.
Then, after Marcus Smart answered back with a three, Young responded again with his classic floater to push it back to a five-point cushion, 126-121, with 45.4 ticks remaining. He controlled the play well with his knack of drawing fouls.
While the Hawks had a balanced scoring attack, as evident in having seven players reach double figures, it was the dynamic Young-Murray backcourt that closed it out. Not only did they hit those crucial buckets, they also put up 18 of the team’s last 19 points, which was key given how on-pace the Celtics were in mounting a comeback.
Game 3 was certainly a good way to bookend their first playoff win together. We’ll see how much confidence it can generate for Game 4, yet another make-or-break battle for the group.
This has to feel good for Trae. Note that is this is just days after it was revealed that he got voted as the “most overrated” player in the league in an anonymous poll among NBA players. He may take it personally, considering he has been an All-Star, a serious contender for the scoring title, and has led his team to the conference finals.