As Madison Square Garden fans rose to give the New York Knicks one last round of applause, Atlanta Hawks guard Trae Young wanted to send the crowd home with one more parting gift.
In the last minute of Game 5 on Wednesday, Young challenged Knicks forward Reggie Bullock, looked at teammate John Collins and got to work. The shot clock ticked up and Young did some dribbling to his left. A flick between the legs later, he soared away and hit a 3-pointer to calm the crowd.
As soon as the shot went in, Young bowed in center court and waved goodbye to the crowd that had taunted him during this first-round playoff series.
“I know where we are. I know there are a lot of shows in this city,” Young said after the Hawks’ 103-89 win. “And I know what they do when the show ends.”
It was Young who had the last laugh Wednesday when the Hawks eliminated the Knicks in five games. The series began with Knicks fans chanting “F — Trae Young,” and one fan even spat at him during Game 2.
But when all was said and done, Young and the Hawks advanced to the second round, and Young cemented his status as a Madison Square Garden villain.
“It feels good,” Young said. “Like I said since the beginning of the season. I feel like I’ve worked my whole life for this moment, to play in the Playoffs on the biggest stage. I put in a lot of work. A lot of the guys that have been here, I’ve done the same. It feels good to win. It feels good to win the series. Now we can focus on the second round. “
Young added that it would have been a sweet victory if the Hawks won at home or away, but winning in New York City “with all the fans still chanting the same thing” felt good too.
Collins, who has been his partner for three seasons with Atlanta, said Young feeds on ridicule from the crowd.
“Trae loves these things,” Collins said. “He’s in the gym working out. You see him indulging and playing with the crowd. Certain guys get motivated and find their reason and additional motivation to play based on the crowd. The crowd gives you energy.
“Trae loves to use that negative energy and use it as fuel. For the fans who want to continue to antagonize that man, please go ahead. He won’t bother him, and we stand behind him too.”
Young backed up his speech with his game. He finished with 36 points and nine assists in Game 5 and averaged 29.2 points and 9.8 assists per game in the series. He also made the winning shot in Game 1.
Young became the second player in NBA history with three consecutive 30-point road games on MSG in the Playoffs, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Michael Jordan is the other.
Additionally, since the merger in 1976-77, Young’s 146 points in the first five playoff games of his career rank him seventh in the NBA behind LeBron James, Jordan, Anthony Davis, Paul Pierce, Luka Doncic and Allen Iverson.
And while Young’s role as the main villain for Knicks fans was clear, Hawks center Clint Capela added fuel to the fire Tuesday. Capela criticized the Knicks’ physical play and said the Hawks could do it too.
He added: “Now we are going to come to your house to win this game again and send you on vacation.”
Capela backed his speech with 14 points, 15 rebounds and two blocks. He was 5 of 5 from the court in the first half, the first time he did so in 66 career playoff games.
“I definitely believed in my group, myself and our team,” Capela said. “And we did the job. We came out here thinking we didn’t want to give them anything. We did the job from start to finish. We deserved it.”
While Hawks coach Nate McMillan said he spoke with Capela about letting the team’s game speak for them, his teammates liked what they heard.
“I loved it,” Collins said. “Obviously, he spoke a lot on his part and put the team on the line in a sense, but we backed him and we knew he was going to go out there and give 100 percent. I really didn’t have a problem with that. I just wanted to go out and do what he did. It said, send them on vacation and send them home. “
With the Knicks out, the Hawks turn their attention to the top-seeded Philadelphia 76ers, who defeated the Washington Wizards in Game 5 on Wednesday to advance as well.
Game 1 between Atlanta and Philadelphia is scheduled for Sunday.