The dizzying seven-game streak between the Atlanta Hawks and the Philadelphia 76ers was cut short. In the end, as it was throughout, it turned out to be nothing more than a story of two pointers.
In one corner you had Trae Young, a player who barely needed a pep talk and an encouraging pat on the back even before three straight 30-point games in the cauldron that is Madison Square Garden. . We know how that series played out, with ‘Ice Trae’ quickly becoming the league’s de facto supervillain and saying goodbye to New York after a three stab to take out the Knicks in five games.
He’s a 22-year-old point guard, 6-foot-1, remember, probably the most featherweight player in the league, and yet already the voice, brain and heart of this team ahead of the game. Atlanta Hawks curve the Eastern Conference Finals.
Despite the obvious downside that he has in both height and stature, Young plays the game in his own way, shades of Steph Curry in every three pull-up logo and a lookless dish for the Clint Capela at rocking.
The difference – and it is a big one – is that Curry does it with a smile; Young does it with a grimace. While barking at everyone. The big ones he flays alive on the perimeter, the referees, all the opposing supporters in the arena. The more Young feels resistance and hostility, the more he intensifies the antagonism. He feeds on it. Every hiss and hiss feeds him in a way indifference never could.
In essence, he’s the NBA’s bogeyman under the bed. Ignore him, pay no attention to him, and hungry for the attention he needs, Young will begin to resort to increasingly wacky measures to crawl under your skin. The more exaggerated, more desperate contact jumps. The passes are more daring, the dribbles shoot even further.
If you decide to take a long look at what is making all the noise, however, don’t expect it to be gone anytime soon. Neither go quietly.
Which brings us to Ben Simmons, the 6-foot-10 forward point and Young’s direct antithesis. As the Hawks’ talisman puffs out his chest and inflates to twice the size with every high-stakes moment in the spotlight, Simmons shrinks.
Game 7, which ended with Atlanta qualifying for its first Eastern Conference Final since 2015, summed it up.
Throughout the first half, Young was a disastrous 1-12 on the pitch, even though the Hawks held a barely believable two-point lead.
Simmons, on the other hand, was shooting at 50%, a complete 42% improvement over his counterpart. The problem was, he had only scored the same number of field goals yet – one – and was seven points short of Young, who still hit the line even though his shot didn’t fall.
Simmons’ long-standing fear of the foul line has been well documented, but this streak was the real nadir. He shot 33% on free throws in seven games against the Hawks and 34% throughout the playoffs – the lowest score in NBA history in the playoffs.
For comparison, Young essentially shot the same (33%) at three points on an even greater number of attempts per game. There, right there, is the perfect distillation of the two’s position in the modern NBA landscape. While Young has long been seen as a defensive handicap who wouldn’t survive in this league, that sort of downside is nothing compared to a Defensive Player of the Year candidate who is just afraid to shoot the ball or shoot the ball. attacking the basket is his lack of confidence.
Ultimately, a player’s Achilles heel doesn’t matter because he didn’t let it count. One player did it, apparently because he let it go, and it crippled his whole team.
In the fourth quarter, with the Hawks ahead of five and the streak on the line, Simmons attempted zero shots, as he had in the later periods of Games 2, 4, 5 and 6. In fact, throughout the series. , he had only shot three baskets in the fourth quarter, making all three.
He even let a dunk go wide open to transfer the blame to Matisse Thybulle, the kind of game that will no doubt haunt the rest of Simmons’ career. What, more and more, does not seem to continue in the city of Philadelphia.
Thybulle didn’t expect the pass and suffered a foul on his dunk attempt. Just like that, with the Sixers at two, a potential three point play and a lead swing became a single point on the line.
In contrast, Young didn’t stop shooting in the fourth. He only came in 2-16, but always had the courage to keep shooting, finishing with 10 points in the last 12 minutes – the most players other than Joel Embiid, who had 11.
With two and a half minutes remaining, just one possession lead and Simmons ahead of him, Young didn’t hesitate twice before lifting the 30-footer he inevitably swept away. This is where the difference in mentality between the two lies, arguably the deciding factor in what was a semi-final series decided on very thin margins on the periphery of the game.
In the final minute, Simmons wasn’t even on the pitch as Doc Rivers rushed for a quick three runs to extend the inevitable. Young stayed until the end, made the last two free throws of the game and gave his jersey to his father who was watching him proudly from the stands.
For so long, it felt like it would be a night to forget for Young. Instead, out of sheer force of will, he made sure the memory was good. Without doubt the best of his career to date.
Simmons, to his credit, took responsibility and took ownership of his performance. There are a lot of lessons to be learned and it will be a far cry from his last playoff appearance. At 24, he has time for himself.
And in Young, he’s got an opponent from whom he could learn a thing or two about the magic of supreme confidence and relentless self-confidence. Just watch where it takes you.