MIAMI — The Heat’s defense may have choked Atlanta Hawks star Trae Young in a 115-91 win in Game 1 of their first-round series on Sunday, but the East No. 1 knows she can’t wait for Young and eighth-place Hawks, to go quietly.
“He’ll hit the ball,” Heat forward PJ Tucker said of Young. “It’s a game. You look at it that way. Treat him the same way in the next game. Expect him to take a lot more shots and be a lot more aggressive, so we have to bring the same kind of energy and even more. Because he’s going to be better .”
After averaging 31 points in Atlanta’s two play-in wins to secure eighth-place finishes, Young was bottled on Sunday as he started a career in 1-on-12 shooting (0-on-7 from 3). -Scored playoff low of 8 points. and had more turnovers (six) than assists (four). His 8.3 percent shot mark was the worst field goal percentage of his career — including the regular season and playoffs, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.
The Hawks scored the first three points of the game, but things were hot from there, with Miami leading by as much as 32 points in the fourth quarter. Hawks coach Nate McMillan, aware of the quick turnaround from Friday’s play-in win in Cleveland to Sunday’s local tippoff at 1 p.m. in Miami, pulled Young with two minutes and 34 seconds left in the third quarter and let him on the bench for the rest of the quarter.
“Miami played at a different level,” said McMillan. “We have to get to another level. There’s another level of intensity where you’re fixated on winning every possession. We have to execute and appreciate every possession in these games.”
The Heat sounded confident they will see a better version of Young in Game 2 on Tuesday.
“Listen, he’ll take more than one shot,” said Kyle Lowry, who had 10 points and nine assists. “He will have more than four assists. He will explode. But we just have to be patient and stick with what we’re doing.”
Miami, who ranked fourth in defensive standings in the NBA during the regular season, used switching schemes on Young to neutralize him when Atlanta tried to break him out by putting screens on their main defenseman. The Heat’s defense has been bolstered by the return of Bam Adebayo, a permanent contender for Defensive Player of the Year, who has overcome a recent bout of COVID-19 to play for the first time since April 8.
“Keep him in front,” declared Jimmy Butler, who scored 21 points in 9-for-15 shooting, when asked about Miami’s strategy for Young. “He’s constantly breaking defenses and getting you to help and if you don’t help it’s a layup, [or] it is a swimmer. And when you help, he hits the right person every time [with a pass]. I think we did a great job not fouling and just moving our feet and staying in front of him.”
According to Second Spectrum, The Heat made 21 changes to Young in Game 1, allowing 0.8 points per direct pick. During the regular season, Young averaged 0.96 points per direct pick against all opposing defenses that switched against him, showing Miami’s expertise in that department on Sunday.
“It’s all hands on deck,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said when asked if his team would leave Caleb Martin as Young’s main defender like the Heat did in the regular season, switching assignments Sunday. “Whatever is required.”
Young acknowledged the fatigue this schedule caused, but admitted that Miami’s defense played a factor in tying his own low-water mark for the second-most 3-pointers he’d attempted in an unmarked game.
“You’re definitely feeling the heavy legs, but you have to give them credit,” Young said. “They came out aggressive, they came out with a lot of energy.”
That’s exactly the approach the Heat expect Young to take in a bounce-back approach.
“You better be nervous,” Spoelstra said. “You have to be nervous. This team can really score in heaps. Obviously, Trae Young can just ignite at any point. So if you relax at one point he suddenly hits a few, that can become a lot more.. You have to respect that .
“And our guys have that respect, but even with respect, even when he’s nervous, he’s still capable. So we just have to be ready for Game 2 and somehow erase that memory and keep that lead.”
Young, who led Atlanta to a surprise No. 5 appearance in the conference finals last year as the Hawks took a 1-0 lead against eventual champion Milwaukee Bucks before losing the series in six, said experience is a reminder of that how much momentum can swing.
“You have to win four games to win a series, you don’t win one and win it all,” Young said. “If that were the case, we would have been in the final last year.”