In only two first-round playoff games, Atlanta Hawks point guard Trae Young has already become public enemy No. 1 for New York Knicks fans.
For the first time in years, Atlanta and New York are not just back in the Eastern Conference Playoffs, but have the talent to win a postseason series or two. Fate would have it only one of these on-the-rise teams will be able to do that this year, as they are matched up in the No. 4 vs. No. 5 best-of-seven, first-round series. Needless to say, the stakes are very high entering Game 3.
Atlanta took Game 1 thanks to Young’s go-ahead floater in the final seconds, silencing all of Madison Square Garden in the process. Three nights later, New York took Game 2 to even the series up at a game apiece before Game 3 tips off at State Farm Arena in Atlanta on Friday night. All the while, Young has emerged as the ultimate Knicks villain we never knew we needed.
How did this come about in only two playoff games, and how will this budding rivalry blossom?
Trae Young has become public enemy No. 1 in the eyes of New York Knicks fans
While it had been a long four years since the Hawks were last in the playoffs, it was twice as long and an umpteenth times more painfully frustrating for the Knicks. Perpetually mired in dysfunction, the Knicks could never get out of their own way with owner James Dolan in charge. He wanted to sell sizzle to an audience that would have been happy eating a two-dollar steak.
No matter how terrible they had been outside of that one good year with Carmelo Anthony eight seasons ago, Knicks fans would pack MSG to support their beloved team that was never going to win anything. Conversely, most of Atlanta was too preoccupied to realize Al Horford was no longer on the team. Atlanta was rebuilding and the post-Mike Budenholzer Hawks were an afterthought.
We are looking at two rising teams who could not be more different from each other. Every Knicks victory has been celebrated like a lavish feast after years of famine. No matter how many wins the Hawks got, Atlanta was always going to be a college football town first. Naturally, a beloved starless Knicks team would face a Hawks team with a Dominique Wilkins-level star in round one.
Even though his offensive game is among the best in basketball in his third year out of Oklahoma, Young has been a polarizing player nationally throughout. He is the guy Atlanta traded Luka Doncic for in a draft-day deal with the Dallas Mavericks. He didn’t play a lick of defense up until this year. “Blessed” with toddler hair and a propensity to draw contact, we were already at a boiling point.
Young was talented enough to play this well on a national stage, whenever he got the chance. As it has been in New York, the recent head-coaching change was a godsend. While Tom Thibodeau brought back a blue-collar ethos to a Knicks organization that was starving for it, Nate McMillan brought an intrinsic belief to his team that they would win that his predecessor never really could.
What this first-round series has shown us more than anything is that this era of Hawks and Knicks basketball were in need of a rival, one they could call their equal. This one building between Atlanta and New York is starting to feel like the one the Knicks used to have with the Indiana Pacers back in the 1990s. The best part is Young slots in perfectly as 21st century Reggie Miller.
No matter how this series ends, we do know one thing: It will go six or the full seven games. There is too much pride within these two teams for it to be a gentleman’s sweep in either direction. The best part is this increased animus will fester over the offseason and make any Hawks vs. Knicks game next year must-see TV. You can market them on any Turner or Disney network property.
As long as Young fully embraces being the villain, we can enjoy this rivalry for as long as these two teams are on their upward ascent in the Eastern Conference. From the F U chants, to getting spit on, to being told he is balding while at the charity stripe, Knicks fans already hate Young with a fiery passion. The best part is he would love nothing more than to silence them again at MSG.
The next handful of games will only add to the rivalry between Trae Young vs. the New York Knicks.