The contact was fortuitous, but the impact was enormous.
Trae Young stepped on referee Sean Wright at the end of the third quarter of Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals on Sunday. He suffered a sprained right ankle as a result.
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“I fell on this guy’s ankle,” Young said after the game.
He missed nearly four minutes of play while receiving treatment in the locker room. Upon his return, he was not the same player and Atlanta, of course, was not the same team.
“I came back, it was a bit painful and… I couldn’t really go as fast as I wanted and then when I did it hurt,” he told reporters.
This made Young – who was playing a monster game – hesitant for the seven minutes he played in the fourth quarter. He was 1 for 4 in the field (a 3 point) and had a turnover. He relies on his teammates, who have not been able to take over. Atlanta shot 7 for 18 (1 for 8 of 3) and returned the ball four times in the last 12 minutes.
“When he came back to the bench I was told he was available,” Hawks coach Nate McMillan said. “Once he got out I saw he wasn’t moving well. When I pulled him out for the last few seconds he couldn’t go back. I was basically looking to rotate him attack / defense.”
The Hawks went from a three-point lead at the time of the injury to an 11-point loss, 113-102. They are now down 2-1 in the series. And things might not get back to normal quickly enough for them.
Game 4 is scheduled for Tuesday in Atlanta. Young will have an MRI on Monday.
“I just need to get treatment and I hope it will be better for the next game,” he said.
McMillan can drag Lou Williams to the point if Young is limited or absent on Tuesday. He can also hope shooters Bogdan Bogdanovic, Danilo Gallinari and Kevin Huerter (combined 14 for 41 on Sunday) all play better.
The best option, of course, is to have Young – who finished with 35 points, a high for the team in Game 3 – at almost full speed.
If he doesn’t get better by Tuesday, the Hawks’ run to the NBA Finals may well end.