BOSTON — It was a scene Trae Young had rehearsed in his mind as a kid.
Less than 10 seconds remaining. A must-win game. His team on the road, down one point. Basketball in his hands.
Make a play.
As TD Garden’s fourth-quarter game clock ticked down in Tuesday’s Game 5 against the Boston Celtics, everything Young envisioned came to fruition. In what has become his calling card through five NBA seasons, the 24-year-old guard let a big shot fly from near midcourt. And he buried it.
This time, when the shot fell through the hoop, it staved off elimination and extended the Hawks’ season to at least Thursday’s Game 6 in Atlanta (8:30 p.m. ET, TNT), with the Celtics holding a 3-2 series lead in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs.
“I’ve been owning the moment my whole life. That’s what I do,” Young said. “I’m not afraid of it; I’ve worked too hard to be afraid of the moment.”
His latest moment came with 2.1 seconds remaining when, after bringing the ball up the floor, Young faked to his right before stepping back and to the left to knock down a 30-foot 3-pointer to beat the Celtics 119-117. Young finished with a game-high 38 points.
“Fourth quarter, tied, close game. At this point, I know what time it is. It’s Ice Trae Time,” Hawks forward John Collins said. “He does his thing. He’s clutch. He wants to be in those moments. He wants the big shot, so it’s sort of normal for me to see him go into that mode and do what he does.”
During a timeout seconds before Young’s shot, Hawks coach Quin Snyder looked at his guard and had a message: He wanted the ball in Young’s hands, but a deep 3 wasn’t the first plan of attack.
“I told him to try to get to the rim if you can,” Snyder said. “But if you have space, just seize it and make a play. We all believe in you.”
After Hawks forward Saddiq Bey inbounded into the backcourt, Young began scanning Boston’s defense. Jaylen Brown, the Celtics’ 6-foot-6 wing, was there, and with every step Young took past the half-court line, he noticed something important.
Brown kept backing up.
“They didn’t need three; they only needed one [to tie],” Brown said. “Trae Young is pretty shifty going to his right hand, so that’s what I was looking to take away.”
Once Young recognized Brown was bracing for a drive, he made the call.
“I just had to trust in what I’ve done my whole life,” Young said, “and that was to shoot with confidence.”
When the ball fell through the net, the once-frenzied home crowd fell silent, thanks to Young, who started walking back down the floor rubbing his shoulders and simulating a shiver, a la his Ice Trae celebration.
“That’s a tough basket, a tough shot in the playoffs,” Brown said. “Maybe if I had forced him toward the basket a little bit more, I could have picked him up a little bit better.
“But maybe we shouldn’t have been in that position in the first place.”
The moment was reminiscent of the performances he put on at Madison Square Garden during his postseason debut in a 2021 first-round series against the New York Knicks. His 32-, 30- and 36-point efforts on the road in Games 1, 2 and 5 led Knicks fans to serenade Young with chants of “F— Trae Young!”
The Hawks and Young got past the Knicks — and their fans — and advanced all the way to the Eastern Conference finals.
In the closing minutes of Tuesday’s game, as Young started heating up and closing Boston’s once-13-point lead, that same expletive of a chant echoed inside TD Garden.
“It didn’t feel like the Knicks series,” Young said. “The Knicks series, [the chants] probably started with 10 minutes in the first quarter.
“When people do that, I just think that’s total respect. They ain’t doing it to everybody.”
Trae in the clutch: 11 PTS
Celtics: 6 PTS
He’s as cold as ice 🥶 pic.twitter.com/svVtwBgPL5
— NBA on ESPN (@ESPNNBA) April 26, 2023
Young’s game-winning 3 punctuated a closing stretch of nearly four minutes during which he scored the Hawks’ final 14 points:
Deep 3-pointers in back-to-back possessions, sandwiched around a steal against Celtics guard Marcus Smart.
Five straight free throws, one made possible by a technical foul on Celtics forward Jayson Tatum for hitting the ball into the stands.
The 30-foot heave over Brown with 2.1 seconds remaining — just five seconds after guard Derrick White hit two free throws to give Boston a one-point edge.
“[But] we’re still in an elimination phase,” Young said. “We lose [Thursday] and we’re done. So we’ve got to keep that same energy and be ready to play when we get back home.”
Since clutch performances like Tuesday’s aren’t new to Young, what happens inside his mind when the lights seemingly get brighter?
“It’s really just the time and situation that shows itself,” Young said. “We’re down and it’s late in the game, I’m sitting on the line and I know I’ve got to be more aggressive.
“I just needed to turn it up another level.”