Trae Young Recorded a Historic Stat Line, but It Still Wasn’t Enough for the Slumping Atlanta Hawks to Win
Clint Capela set a screen for already-scorching Atlanta Hawks guard Trae Young near midcourt, and the Portland Trail Blazers’ Robert Covington decided to pass the superstar off to big man Jusuf Nurkic — maybe because he was tired of getting torched so often by Young.
“This is just a poor switch right there,” said Hall of Famer and Bally Sports Southeast color analyst Dominique Wilkins on the broadcast, almost sensing what was about to happen next.
Seconds later, Young disregarded having his left heel on Portland’s midcourt logo and being guarded by a long-armed 7-footer and let fly a 3-pointer that tore through the net.
It was that kind of night for Young, who could do no wrong against Portland. How good was Young? He scored a career-best 56 points and somehow still found time to hand out 14 assists to his teammates. Maybe, just maybe, the Trail Blazers made the mistake of trash-talking Young, something he recently admitted gets him going during games.
Sadly for Young, he couldn’t even enjoy the career night as his Hawks blew a five-point fourth-quarter lead and lost 136-131 for their sixth defeat in the past eight games. That’s been the case quite often this season as Young ranks second in the NBA in scoring (28.4) and third in assists (9.5), but it hasn’t led to sustained success. The underachieving Hawks are 16-20 — 9.5 games back of the East-leading Chicago Bulls and two games out of the No. 8 spot.
Young accomplished something no one in NBA history had ever done and joined exclusive list
Atlanta Hawks star Trae Young became the first player in the history of the NBA to have as many as 14 assists in a game with at least 55 points. James Harden had the most assists in a 50-point game (17 in 2016), but Young took things to a different level by eclipsing the 55-point barrier.
According to a StatMuse tweet, Young joined Oscar Robertson, Michael Jordan, Tony Parker, Russell Westbrook, and Harden (three times) as the only players with at least 55 points and 10 assists in the same game.
Also, according to Ben Dowsett of FiveThirtyEight, Young became just the second player ever to record at least 50 points and at least 14 assists and come out a loser. The other: Tiny Archibald in 1973.
The reeling Hawks, who might be considering major changes to their roster just one season after reaching the Eastern Conference Finals, lost on Monday despite facing a Portland team without injured stars Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. Anfernee Simons scored a career-best 43 points and helped Portland snap a four-game losing streak.
The Atlanta Hawks looked very much like a one-man team considering all that Trae Young did on Monday in Portland
The phrase “one-man team” is often overused in the NBA and sports in general, but it was somewhat applicable on Monday considering the load the 6-foot-1, 165-pound Young shouldered for the Atlanta Hawks.
The Hawks opened the game in a 9-0 hole, but then Young almost single-handedly brought them back. Young either scored or assisted on Atlanta’s first 22 points of the game, and by the end of the first quarter, he had a hand in 27 of their 32 points.
Young’s 3-pointer from the edge of the midcourt logo capped a first-half performance in which he had 29 points and nine assists. Nineteen points came out of those nine assists, meaning that of Atlanta’s first 65 points, Young had a role in 48 of them.
Young played well enough in the third quarter (12 points and five assists) to propel the Hawks to a 105-100 lead. That gave him 41 points and 14 assists through three quarters, meaning he had played a starring role in 69 of Atlanta’s first 105 points.
“The little guy is amazing,” remarked Wilkins in snippets of the Bally Sports Southeast telecast posted on Twitter. Wilkins should know, scoring 50-plus points eight times in his illustrious career.
Atlanta coach Nate McMillan stuck to his regular rotation and relieved Young with usually reliable veteran Lou Williams to start the fourth quarter. However, before the Hawks could get Young back onto the floor, their five-point lead devolved into a six-point deficit.
Young did his best to give the Hawks a chance to push the game into overtime by scoring 15 points in the final quarter. However, he didn’t have an assist in the fourth quarter — a glaring statistic that might speak more to his struggling teammates than his unwillingness to give up the ball.
Trae Young made shots from all over, but it still wasn’t enough for the slumping Atlanta Hawks
Like LeBron James, Luka Doncic, Harden, and Westbrook, Young is a high-usage player who routinely has the ball in his hands most of the game. In his 3.5-season NBA career, he already has 40 games with at least 30 points and 10 assists — good for 12th in NBA history.
Incredibly, he needed just 26 shots to get to 56 points on Monday. Young tied his career high with 17 made field goals, and his seven 3-point makes were one shy of equalling his career best. In addition to making all 15 of his free throws, his seven 3-pointers covered 223 feet (32, 32, 36, 33, 27, 25, and 38 feet).
Last season, the Hawks were one of the NBA’s feel-good stories, taking flight after McMillan took over as head coach for Lloyd Pierce. Too often, they have flopped in the fourth quarter of games this season — an area in which they thrived last season while dispatching the New York Knicks and Philadelphia 76ers in the playoffs and pushing the eventual champion Milwaukee Bucks to six games in the Eastern Conference Finals.
McMillan knows that trend must change if the Hawks are going to be playoff contenders this season and stop foolishly wasting historic efforts like the one Young delivered in Portland on Monday.
“We were a good team finishing games last season,” McMillan said during a recent postgame news conference following an Atlanta win in Orlando. “Last year, we worked to become a better team in fourth quarters with our execution, and that’s something we have to get better at doing again. We have to understand the type of urgency needed in fourth quarters.”
All quotes, unless otherwise attributed, were acquired firsthand.
Statistics courtesy of ESPN.com
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