They treated him like he was Jose Altuve at Yankee Stadium before Game 1 even started, 15,000 or so throaty fans chanting his name with an F-bomb preceding it.
With less than one second remaining, Trae Young put his finger to his lips and motioned to the packed house at the Garden that he no longer could hear them yelling at him.
“I wanted to hear those F-U chants again,” Young said immediately after the game on TNT.
In the classic playoff villain mold of Reggie Miller or Michael Jordan, Atlanta’s precocious All-Star point guard scored 13 of his game-high 32 points in the fourth quarter, punctuated by a tiebreaking and heartbreaking scoop drive with 0.9 seconds remaining to lift the Hawks to a 107-105 victory over the Knicks in Game 1.
“I’ve always looked at it is I’m doing something right,” Young said on his postgame Zoom call about the fans. “If I’m offending them with my play that they hate me that much, I’m obviously doing something right.
“I just got to let my play do the talking. At the end of the day, fans can only talk. They can’t guard me. They’re not out there playing.”
Young, the third-year guard out of Oklahoma, became both a clutch performer and a road villain in the first postseason game of his career, outshining the Knicks two rising stars Julius Randle and RJ Barrett — who shot a combined 12-for-39 in their playoff debuts — and fronting his team to a Game 1 victory on his first crack playing on the NBA’s brightest stage.
“I’m glad fans are back, MSG was rocking tonight, and I’m glad everyone got to experience it,” Young said. “I definitely know the history of players coming in here and being hated, and I take that as a compliment, to be honest with you.
“I’m obviously doing something right if you hate me this much. I just embrace it, and focus on helping my team get the win. At the end of the day, we’ll get the last laugh, if we do that.”
Knicks guard Derrick Rose had tied the score on a runner with 10.2 seconds remaining, and Hawks coach Nate McMillan called a timeout. Veteran teammate Lou Williams said he implored Young not to pass up the final shot.
“This is a coming out party for him,” Williams said. “And he’s ready to do it. … What a place to have your first postseason game, at Madison Square Garden.”
The Knicks subbed in defensive specialist Frank Ntilikina to guard Young, and the Hawks star scooted around him to the right side of the lane and scooped the ball in with under a second remaining before gesturing for the fans who were taunting him earlier to be quiet,
“That’s a big shot with the game on the line,” McMillan said. “He’s fearless. We know that he’s tough. He’s small but he’s a tough kid and he’s not afraid to take that shot. He did it and got us Game 1.”