Hawks’ Trae Young ends Knicks’ slim game hopes, picks up where he left off at Madison Square Garden

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Trae Young was stuck in COVID-19 health and safety protocols when the Hawks played the Knicks in New York over Christmas, making Tuesday’s game Young’s first game at Madison Square Garden since he burned down the Knicks in the first round of the playoffs last season.

After averaging 29 points and just under 10 assists in that first-round series, including 36 points in the deciding Game 5 in New York, Young returned to MSG strong on Tuesday with 45 points in the 117- Atlanta’s 111 that all but sealed the Knicks’ fate as a lottery team.

With the loss, the Knicks are now six games behind Atlanta for the final play-in spot with 10 games remaining. The Knicks own the tiebreaker over Atlanta with a 3-1 head-to-head advantage, but that’s cold comfort. The Knicks needed to win that one-on-one, which would have cut the gap between New York and Atlanta to four, to have a last-minute chance. At this point, a two-game swing is too much. The Knicks are almost certainly headed to the lottery.

After coming within two Finals wins last season, Atlanta haven’t fared much better than the Knicks this year, but it looks like they’ll at least have a chance to fight their way into the playoffs and to see if they can’t heat up. Nothing is impossible when you have Young, one of the most flammable players in the league, at your side. Young had 13 of 25 shots Tuesday, including seven of 15 from beyond the arc, and he absolutely baked Taj Gibson for his final bucket of the night.

After the win, Young hilariously mocked the New York crowd, with whom he developed a pretty naughty relationship.

The 45 points is a career high for Young at MSG, and that’s tied for most by a Hawks player at MSG with Dominique Wilkins, who scored 45 points in New York in 1988. Young has now scored 45 or more in three of his last five games. With 10 games left, Atlanta has one loss to the No. 9 Hornets and two losses to the No. 8 Nets, which they face yet again.

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