Atlanta loves basketball. Usually, that love is reserved for the NBA’s biggest stars and teams. As the Atlanta Hawks began this season, they couldn’t hold leads and weren’t disciplined on defense. Invariably, after a 14-20 start, Lloyd Pierce was fired. Atlanta was languishing, 11th in the Eastern Conference, and their performances were inconsistent. Hawks’ general manager Travis Schlenk named Nate McMillan as the interim head coach. However, in this COVID-shorted season, the expectations were low. The talent was there, but in Atlanta, no organization can’t thrive without a star.

That star is Atlanta’s point guard Trae Young.

Schlenk’s reputation would hinge upon whether Young would be a bigger star than the player he traded away, Dallas’s Luka Doncic.

As their first-round series began against the New York Knicks in a re-opened, raucous, rowdy Madison Square Garden, Young was subjected to vulgar chants throughout games one, two, and five. He was spat upon in game two. However, in the series clincher, Young scored 36 points and dished out nine assists.

“I’ve always looked at it that I’m doing something right if I’m affecting them with my play that much that they hate me that much,” Young said after closing out the Knicks. “I’m obviously doing something right and just got to let my play do the talking.”

Atlanta’s basketball fans had no choice but to applaud what the 22-year-old Young did on basketball’s brightest stage. Young’s play talked loudly as his star began to shine brighter. The crowds came to State Farm Arena expecting not only competitive basketball but also a party.

Then, the turning point was Game 5 in Philadelphia. After trailing by 26 points, the Hawks would stun the Eastern Conference’s top-seeded Sixers 109-106.

“If you don’t believe, you got to believe now,” Hawks coach Nate McMillan said after the game.

Young would score 39 points in the thrilling victory.

“We keep fighting no matter what the score is. I’m proud of this team,” Young said. “We have confidence in each other.”

In game six, Young would once again pace the Hawks but the supporting cast did not show up to the party, as the Sixers would stave off elimination. However, in Game 7, Atlanta’s supporting cast came to Young’s rescue. One of Schlenk’s draft picks, Kevin Huerter, poured in a much-needed 27 points as the Hawks knocked out the Sixers, busting their process, and shattering their championship aspirations.

The Atlanta Hawks are participating in its second conference finals since they relocated from St. Louis in 1968. As they take on the Milwaukee Bucks, the Hawks will have home games on Sunday, June 27th; Tuesday, June 29th, and game six would be played on July 3rd. Heading into Wednesday’s game one, the Hawks are 5-2 in the playoffs so far on the road. McMillan, who has galvanized this team’s turnaround, has gone 8-4 in these playoffs. Conversely, his teams in Seattle, Portland, and Indiana were a combined 9-30 in their last 39 postseason games under him. Like Philly before them, the Bucks have championship aspirations. Meanwhile, the Hawks have a young and deep roster that will likely keep this series competitive.

“It took a lot of losses for us to get here,” Young said. “For us guys who’ve been through this rebuild, this is a lot better. And the best thing is, this is just the beginning.”

Atlanta Hawks’ Trae Young reacts after the Hawks won Game 7 in a second-round NBA basketball playoff series against the Philadelphia 76ers, Sunday, June 20, 2021, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Itoro Umontuen currently serves as Managing Editor of The Atlanta Voice. Upon his arrival to the historic publication, he served as their Director of Photography. As a mixed-media journalist, Umontuen...

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