ATLANTA (AP) — Trae Young was showered with chants of “overrated!” during two dismal games in Boston. The Atlanta star will need to find his playoff groove at home if the Hawks are going to have any chance of knocking off the Celtics.
Young shot just 35% (14 of 40) during a pair of double-digit losses that put the Hawks in an 0-2 hole heading into Game 3 Friday night at State Farm Arena.
And the Boston fans let him have it, demonstrating they don’t have a lot of respect for the 24-year-old point guard who is supposed to be one of the league’s most dynamic young players.
Atlanta coach Quin Snyder hasn’t lost faith in Young.
“I want Trae to be aggressive. He knows that,” Snyder said after Thursday’s practice. “I don’t want us to be deterred by the ball not going in and stop having that aggressive mindset — Trae in particular.”
Also Friday, the New York Knicks host the Cleveland Cavaliers with the series tied 1-1, while Denver Nuggets take a 2-0 lead into Minnesota to face the Timberwolves.
Dejounte Murray, who starts in the Hawks backcourt with Young and leads the team in scoring at 26.5 points per game, sent his teammate a text after Game 2 telling him “be yourself.”
“He’s just gotta be confident, be Trae Young, be who he is,” Murray said.
But who is he? After all, this is the second year in a row Young has slumped badly in the playoffs.
In 2022, he averaged just 15.4 points in a five-game loss to Miami in the opening round. The Heat totally shut down Young, who shot 31.9% from the field, made only 7 of 38 3-pointers, and had more turnovers (31) than assists (30).
It’s been more of the same this year against the second-seeded Celtics. When Young has been on the court, the Hawks have been outscored by a total of 32 points.
Unless he can turn things around, it looks like another short postseason stay for the Hawks, who two years ago advanced to the Eastern Conference final before falling to the eventual NBA champion Milwaukee Bucks.
But Young is now dealing with the death of his great-grandfather, posting “heaven got brighter overnight” on social media Thursday.
CELTICS AT HAWKS
Celtics lead 2-0. Game 3, 7 p.m. EDT, ESPN
— NEED TO KNOW: The Hawks have never won a playoff series after losing the first two games. They are 0-26 in franchise history, which dates back to their founding as the Tri-Cities Blackhawks in 1949 and includes stints in Milwaukee and St. Louis. Since moving to Atlanta in 1968, the Hawks have an 0-22 playoff series mark when losing the first two games.
— KEEP AN EYE ON: Celtics G Derrick White, who is averaging 25 points and doing a brilliant job on Young at the defensive end. “It’s great to see him playing at a high level,” said Murray, a former teammate in San Antonio. “I just want him to slow down a little bit against us.”
— INJURY WATCH: Both teams are healthy. The only player on the most recent injury report was Boston’s Danilo Gallinari, who has yet to play a game this season.
— PRESSURE IS ON: In addition to Young, the Hawks desperately need more production from F John Collins. A disappointing regular season has carried through to the playoffs, with Collins averaging just 8.5 points per game while hitting 7 of 18 shots — including 1 of 8 from 3-point range.
CAVALIERS AT KNICKS
Tied 1-1. Game 3, 8:30 p.m. EDT, ABC
— NEED TO KNOW: The Cavaliers and Knicks are even as the NBA playoffs return to Madison Square Garden for just the second time in the past decade. The Cavs knotted it with a 107-90 rout in Game 2 but now have to win at least once on one of basketball’s most famed stages to regain home-court advantage.
— KEEP AN EYE ON: Donovan Mitchell. The native New Yorker will surely be amped up to play in front of family and friends. Will he be content to be a distributor, as he was while having 13 assists when Darius Garland and Caris LeVert carried the scoring load in Game 2, or will he want to be the star of the show?
— INJURY WATCH: Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said Julius Randle is prepared to return to his normal rotation. The All-Star forward usually went all or most of the way in the first quarter during the regular season, but he was checking out about midway through the period in Games 1 and 2 while regaining conditioning following a sprained left ankle.
— PRESSURE IS ON: R.J. Barrett. New York’s starting forward is 6 for 25 in the series and needs to get going for a team that has averaged just 95.5 points so far.
NUGGETS AT TIMBERWOLVES
Nuggets lead 2-0. Game 3, 9:30 p.m. EDT, ESPN
— NEED TO KNOW: The top-seeded Nuggets protected their home court and hold a 2-0 series lead for the first time under coach Michael Malone. “What we have to do is not be satisfied,” said Malone, who’s guided the Nuggets to the playoffs for five consecutive seasons. “If you’re going to be a great team, you’ve got to be selfish, man. Let’s go up and get Game 3.”
— KEEP AN EYE ON: Nikola Jokic and Rudy Gobert. Things got extra chippy in Game 2 as the Timberwolves ramped up their physicality following a 109-80 blowout in the series opener. Jokic picked up four fouls and Gobert five, but there could have been several more whistles on these two.
— INJURY WATCH: Jokic was listed as questionable for Game 2 with a sore left wrist, but that’s been something that’s been bugging him for a while. Malone said before tip-off he had zero concern about his superstar’s health. Jokic then went out and finished one rebound and one assist shy of a triple-double.
— PRESSURE IS ON: Karl-Anthony Towns, who has been a non-factor in the series so far after having rounded into form over the last few weeks following his 52-game absence with a severe calf sprain. Towns has made only 8 of 27 shots in the series. He scored 10 and 11 points in the two losses at Denver.
AP Basketball Writer Brian Mahoney in New York and AP Sports Writer Arnie Stapleton in Denver contributed to this report.
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