Bring it on.
Bring on your profane chants, your jeers and your utter disdain. Trae Young wants to hear it all. Let the hate rain down on him from the rafters of Madison Square Garden. He plans on laughing all the way to the rim.
On Sunday night, a villain was born at the Garden. Anyone who has been alive for about 35 years had to feel a shiver of recognition when Young floated a dagger into the hearts of Knicks fans, looked at the crowd and put his finger to his mouth in a mocking "Shhhh."
Young, whose basket with nine-tenths of a second left secured a 107-105 win over the Knicks and silenced Spike Lee and the rest of the fans, is the Reggie Miller of our time. Lee exhibited the same dejected courtside posture Sunday that he did at the end of Game 1 of the Knicks-Pacers conference semifinal in 1995 when Miller scored eight points in 8.9 seconds.
I always wondered what it would have been like if players such as Miller had social media to tweak fans during the 1990s. Now we will find out, because Young has a chance to continue to needle the Knicks and their fans.
Young was quick to use social media to stoke the fires Sunday night. Shortly after throwing the "shhh" sign, he posted a picture of the scene to his 3 million Instagram followers. The Atlanta Hawks’ official Twitter site then got in on the act Sunday night, tweeting a video of Young prancing down the hallway toward the locker room after the game.
"It got real quiet in there," Young yells at the camera. "They’re still yelling that. I don’t care. Next one. Next one."
In his postgame news conference Sunday, Young said he welcomes the role of a New York villain.
"Of course," he said. "I definitely know the history of the players coming in here and being hated. I take that as a compliment, to be honest with you. Obviously, I’m doing something right if you hate me that much. So I embrace it and focus on my team and helping my team win. At the end of the day, we will get the last laugh if we do that."
To keep the Hawks from getting the last laugh, the Knicks are going to have to find a way to contain Young. In addition to hitting the winner, the 22-year-old joined elite company by becoming the only player other than LeBron James to record 30 points, 10 assists and five rebounds in a playoff debut.
It was clear that Young’s teammates had confidence in him when they got the ball with the score tied at 105 and 9.8 seconds left.
"I just told him don’t pass the ball," the Hawks’ Lou Williams said. "That was my advice. This is your team. The franchise has put the franchise on your shoulders. You’re the point guard. Go win the basketball game."
Thibodeau was an assistant on the Knicks during the latter part of their wars with Miller and the Pacers. After practice Monday, he was asked if Young’s performance reminded him of Miller.
"The great players, that’s what they do," Thibodeau said. "They pose problems. You have to look at it and come back and have a determination and perseverance and resilience to keep fighting. Those guys can make tough plays even when they do something great. They can come back the next time and do it all better."
Miller, of course, forever remains a villain at the Garden after his choke sign aimed at Lee.
Young said he can’t wait for Game 2 and going up against a hostile Garden crowd again.
"Part of playing on the road is that everyone is against you besides your team," he said. "It brings you together and you have to be together to win those games. Sometimes those are the best ones."
In other words, bring it on.