Trae Young was stuck in COVID-19 health and safety protocols when the Hawks played the Knicks in New York on Christmas, making Tuesday’s matchup Young’s first game back in Madison Square Garden since he torched the Knicks in the first round last season’s playoffs.
After averaging 29 points and just under 10 assists in that first-round series, including a 36-point showing in the Game 5 clincher in New York, Young returned to MSG with a bang on Tuesday with 45 points in Atlanta’s 117-111 victory that all but sealed the Knicks’ fate as a lottery team.
With the loss, the Knicks are now six games back of Atlanta for the final play-in spot with 10 games to play. The Knicks do own the tiebreakers over Atlanta with a 3-1 head-to-head advantage, but that’s of little consolation. The Knicks needed to win that head-to-head, which would’ve trimmed the gap between New York and Atlanta to four, to have any shot at a last-minute run. At this stage, a two-game swing is too much. The Knicks are almost certainly headed for the lottery.
After getting within two wins of the Finals last season, Atlanta hasn’t fared much better than the Knicks this year, but it is looking like they’re at least going to get a chance to play their way into the playoff field and see if they can’t get hot. Nothing is impossible when you have Young, one of the most flammable big-stage players in the league, on your side. Young hit 13 of his 25 shots on Tuesday, including seven of his 15 attempts from beyond the arc, and he absolutely baked Taj Gibson for his final bucket of the night.
After the win, Young hilariously jabbed the New York crowd, with which he’s developed quite the villainous relationship.
The 45 points is a career-high for Young at MSG, and it’s tied for the most by a Hawks player at MSG with Dominique Wilkins, who went for 45 at New York in 1988. Young has now gone for 45 or more points in three of his last five games. With 10 games to play, Atlanta is one loss back of the No. 9 Hornets and two losses back of the No. 8 Nets, whom they still play one more time.