ATLANTA – Trae Young wanted to make a big impression in his first trip to the playoffs.
It's going just as he planned.
Shaking off an ugly spitting incident at Madison Square Garden, Young dazzled in the first home playoff game of his career, scoring 21 points and dishing out 14 assists to lead the Atlanta Hawks to a 105-94 victory over the New York Knicks in Game 3 of their opening-round series Friday night.
“I feel like I've prepared my whole life for these days, these moments,” he said.
Spurred on by a raucous crowd of 15,743, by far the largest of the season in Atlanta, the Hawks pulled ahead 2-1 in the best-of-seven series.
Game 4 is Sunday in Atlanta.
This one was tight through much of the first half, but the Hawks closed the second quarter on a Young-powered, 22-5 run that sent the arena into an uproar.
“He doesn't really have a weakness,” interim coach Nate McMillan said. “He takes what the defense gives him. He does a good job finding the open man when the defense collapses in the paint. When they don't, he's attacking and finishing at the rim.”
In Game 1, Young hit the winning basket to silence the crowd at Madison Square Garden's first playoff contest since 2013.. He shined again during the spurt that essentially decided the most lopsided game of the series, having a hand in 18 of the 22 points.
Young scored five points himself, hitting a 3 and a step-back jumper, but spent most of his time scooting around the court, creating for teammates.
A lob pass to John Collins for a thunderous dunk. A pass to set up Collins for an open 3. Another alley-oop to Clint Capela for a slam that prompted both players to unleash emphatic screams. A nifty pass to find Bogdan Bogdanovic all alone for a 3. And, finally, one more dish to set up De'Andre Hunter's jumper beyond the arc.
“It feels great,” Young said “This is my first experience at home in the playoffs. I'm looking forward to having a lot more of these."
The Hawks led 58-44 at the half. The Knicks never got the margin below double figures over the final two quarters.
During Game 2 in New York, a Knicks fan spit on Young as he was inbounding the ball during the fourth quarter of a tight contest — one of three incidents in a matter of hours at NBA arenas across the country, renewing calls for increased security and other measures to deal with unruly fans.
A total of five fans in New York, Philadelphia and Utah were banned from games for their misbehavior.
With Young spreading the wealth, the Hawks put their depth to good use. Seven players scored in double figures, including Collins with 14 points after he was held scoreless in Game 2 while dealing with foul trouble.
Meanwhile, Knicks All-Star Julius Randle had another tough night and was serenaded constantly with chants of “Overrated! Overrated! Overrated!”
“We just had one bad stretch in the second quarter,” Randle said. “That was the difference in the game.”
With the Hawks sagging on him in the lane and making every look a tough one, Randle was held to 14 points on 2-of-15 shooting. For the series, he has made just 13 of 54 from the field.
“We've got to adapt," Randle said, “and we will.”
In his first start of the series, Derrick Rose led the Knicks with 30 points. He made 13 of 21 shots, but his teammates combined to made just 16 of 60.
“If you’re not making plays with a shooting team like that, there’s no way you’re going to win the game,” Rose said.
Knicks: Rose found out during the morning walk-through that he would get the start after averaging 21.5 points off the bench in the first two games, He scored 11 of New York’s first 19 points on the way to his best performance of the series. ... The Knicks went 13 of 13 at the foul line in the opening quarter and finished 27 of 30.
Hawks: Kevin Huerter was called for a flagrant foul on Nerlens Noel late in the first quarter. ... Atlanta did a much better job on the boards after being outrebounded 54-41 in Game 2. NBA rebounding champ Capela led the way with 12. ... Danilo Gallinari made all four of his 3-point attempts.
Shortly before tipoff, Young spoke out for the first time on the spitting incident in a brief, on-court interview with ESPN.
He said he's got no problem with what fans say or chant, but added that spitting is “uncalled for in any arena or environment.”
“I don’t know if it got on my jersey or my shorts or what not, but I didn’t feel it,” Young said. “I saw the video, and it’s disgusting.”
Capela gave a wag of the finger, a la Hall of Famer and former Hawk star Dikembe Mutombo, after a block on Randle in the closing minutes.
“I just wanted to make a statement there,” Capela said. “Hype up the fans.”
For their first home playoff game since 2017, the Hawks opened up nearly every seat at State Farm Arena.
The team restricted capacity to about 3,000 through the regular season because of the pandemic, and had initially planned to boost that to about 7,600 for the playoffs.
But, as more teams announced plans to fill the bulk of their seats in the postseason, the Hawks quickly followed suit. They set up a configuration with both vaccinated and unvaccinated sections, allowing for a nearly full house in the 16,888-seat arena.
“I thought our guys fed off that,” McMillan said. “There was a lot of energy in the building.”
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