There was a time when Trae Young thought he owned the Miami Heat, or at least when the Atlanta Hawks guard acted that way.
That, to be precise, was during aafter the Hawks went up six with 59.9 seconds left.
At that point, Young defiantly waved her arms to her sides to signal to the fans at AmericanAirlines Arena that it was over, and spoke those words as well.
it wasn’t. The Heat would rally to force overtime and then win 135-121.
No, it was not the best moment.
Many not-so-great moments would follow for Young against the Heat, arguably creating the main narrative for Tuesday night’s play-in game at the Kaseya Center, with the winning team advancing to the best-of-seven first round of the playoffs. of the Eastern Conference. against the Boston Celtics on Saturday and the loser was left to fend for himself by hosting a winner-take-all game on Friday against the loser of Wednesday night’s Chicago Bulls-Toronto Raptors play-in game.
“Trae Young’s narratives,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “I am aware of that.”
It’s hard not to be.
For all of Young’s scoring brilliance, the fifth-year guard has struggled a lot against the Heat over the years.
In 19 career regular-season games against the Heat, Young averaged 21.4 points on .402 shooting, compared to his career highs of 25.5 points on .437 shooting. The 21.4 average is the second lowest against any opponent, trailing only the 20.2 he has averaged in 10 career games against the Dallas Mavericks.
This season, with the Hawks going 1-3 against the Heat, Young went 4-for-16 and 2-for-13 games against the Heat, finishing the season’s four-game series averaging 19.8 points on .356 shooting from the field. and .208 shots. in triples, with 39 assists to 21 turnovers. That compares to his overall season average of 26.2 points on .429 from the field and .335 on 3-pointers.
And in last season’s first-round series that the Heat won in five games, Young averaged just 15.4 points, shooting .319 from the field and .184 on 3-pointers, with 31 turnovers on just 22 shots made.
“That’s been there,” Spoelstra said of repeating such statistics.
But the teams have also changed since last season’s playoff series. In addition to the Heat losing defensive anchor PJ Tucker to the Philadelphia 76ers in free agency, the Hawks mortgaged their future drafts to acquire Dejounte Murray from the San Antonio Spurs to even the score and then brought in 3-point threat Saddiq Bey. from Detroit. Pistons at the February NBA trade deadline to further space the court.
The result is that Young doesn’t necessarily have to score. For the second straight season, Young led the NBA in total assists, only the fourth player age 24 or younger to do so, joining Chris Paul, Isiah Thomas, and Oscar Robertson.
Then, just before the Hawks’ two March games in Miami, came the firing of Nate McMillan, who coached Atlanta in last year’s playoff series against the Heat, and the hiring of former Utah Jazz coach, Quin Snyder, who has long orchestrated tight games. against the heat
“Since the coaching change,” Spoelstra said, “their offense has taken a huge leap. You have to be able to respect that.”
Just as there continues to be respect for Young, whose career record has also included 50-point games and 35-point games against the Heat (although nothing more than 25 this season).
“You’re going to get the best of him,” Spoelstra said, “as you should expect.”
The difference on Tuesday is that, unlike in the playoffs, it only takes one win to advance. And the Hawks and Young won against the Heat in the playoffs last season, and they won during this season’s four-game series.
“It’s not like you can expect to come here with an average game,” Spoelstra said of the 7:30 p.m. game on TNT. “You have teams that are not that far apart in the general classification. And it must be competitive. And I want that to bring out the best in us.”
With Young and the Hawks underdogs again.
“The hardest teams to beat are the ones with nothing to lose, their backs against the wall,” Heat center Bam Adebayo said. “And I feel like they’re coming here thinking about an underdog mentality. And the things we have to do aren’t just Xs and Os. It’s the little things: ball in the air, ball on the ground, 50-50 balls and being the most dominant team.”