When even the mayor of New York City, with weightier concerns on his desk, opts to weigh in on the subject, it’s safe to say that the Knicks have a Trae Young problem.
Speaking at his Tuesday morning news briefing, New York City mayor Bill de Blasio, adorned in a Knicks hat — rather than the Nets gear he dressed up in last week — offered his help to the Knicks.
"This is about basketball," de Blasio said. "I have an important official announcement. This is very serious, want to get this out. Message to Trae Young on behalf of the people of New York City and anyone who cares actually playing basketball the right way, stop hunting for fouls, Trae. I want to quote Steve Nash, great player, great coach. He says, 'That’s not basketball.’ Trae, Trae, that Hawk's not going to fly in New York City. Come on, play the game the right way, see if you can win. I think the Knicks are going to teach you a lesson."
The opening-round playoff series between the Knicks and Hawks has centered on Young, from the fans at Madison Square Garden spending much of Game One Sunday night shouting crude chants at the 22-year-old point guard to de Blasio complaining about the working of the officials. But the most important thing for the Knicks is finding an on-court solution after Young led Atlanta to a Game 1 win with 32 points, 10 assists and the game-winning, last-second shot.
As Young carried the Hawks in the fourth quarter, it wasn’t just the last-second floater through the heart of the Knicks defense, but the nine free throws he took and made. Young has a knack for drawing fouls with a drive and pause move that is either brilliant if you’re a Hawks fan or the cause of grumbling from coaches and players, taunts from the crowd and, apparently, pleading from the mayor.
The Knicks managed to keep him off the line for the first three quarters. And then in the final seven minutes of the game he took nine free throws.
"I don’t know," Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said, hesitating and balancing between providing a hint to officials for Game 2 and avoiding enticing the NBA to issue a fine and drain his bank account. "You have to - my thing is I just want consistency. I really don’t care how the game is called. it can be called tight, it can be called loose, just be consistent. And if that happens, there’s a ton of plays that can go either way. It’s a tough job, but it seemed like it was different in the fourth. You don’t want to see that."
It’s not a surprise that Young got to the line. He ranked third in the NBA in total free-throw attempts, trailing only Giannis Antetokounmpo and Joel Embiid. He went to the line 34 times against the Knicks in three regular-season meetings this season, which included leaving one game with a sprained ankle.
Thibodeau actually challenged a foul called on RJ Barrett with 28.6 seconds remaining as Young drove along the left side of the lane. But a review confirmed the call and sent Young to the line for his final two free throws, pushing the Hawks in front.
"We’ve just got to do a better job in the fourth," Barrett said. "We know he’s going to try to look to get foul calls, so we’ve got to keep our hands back, try to stay in front of the ball."
"He’s extremely smart with knowing how to get foul calls," Taj Gibson said. "He’s been doing that all season long. It’s nothing new. We just have to be more poised, pull our hands back, and try to stay aggressive on defense. But he’s a talented player, and he’s gonna get his. We just have to stay focused and stay resilient."