Trae Young and the Hawks are just getting started

Published July 7, 2021, 9:00 PMJon Carlos Rodriguez

The Hawks saw their magical run end in the Eastern Conference Finals, but it's just the beginning of something great for the franchise.

Trae Young and Jrue Holiday, after doing battle, paid their respects to each other because that’s what two warriors do.

“The stuff you’re doing is legendary. It’s legendary, man. Keep going. Talk your (expletive), too,” Holiday, the tired veteran who’s been around, told Young.

Young replied with a promising and upbeat, “I got you!” 

If, for some reason, you missed out on the entire Eastern Conference finals and just caught this exact moment, you’d think that the Atlanta Hawks defeated the Milwaukee Bucks.

From this exchange, it sounded like Trae Young and the Hawks were the ones going to the NBA Finals. They weren’t, but it did feel like the Hawks were the big winners of these playoffs.

They won’t be walking away with hardware nor will they be honored with any sort of recognition. The Phoenix Suns and the Milwaukee Bucks are playing in the finals, but there will be a faint buzz that could last long after a new NBA champion has been crowned: “How about those Hawks though?”

They were definitely not considered playoff favorites going in, but as each grueling series passed and more teams fell, the Hawks stood tall. Gone early were the defending champs LA Lakers, along with the favored Brooklyn Nets, but the Hawks remained.

Looking back at the Hawks’ playoff run, there had been signs everywhere. Only, they were seen as flashes of brilliance and not symptoms of greatness. 

The silencing of Madison Square Garden. The trash talk. The lockdown of Julius Randle. Danilo Gallinari. Red velvet. The John Collins poster featuring Joel Embiid. The John Collins poster featuring Joel Embiid on a shirt worn by John Collins. The shimmy. Starter Lou Williams. Onyeka Okongwu’s precious minutes. The intensity of Cam Reddish.

It was all there, from start to finish. From ending the New York Knicks’ own Cinderella run to starting their own. From sending the Philadelphia 76ers home so they can continue the trip to Milwaukee. From being two wins and a healthy ankle away from doing the impossible.

The Atlanta Hawks have been doing it since day one, and if Khris Middleton had not been Khris Middleton, the Hawks would still be doing it in the finals.

In each and every playoffs, there’s always a version of this season’s Hawks—a miracle team, if you will—defying odds and exceeding expectations. Dig far back and you’ll see traces in the Knicks team of ‘99; the We Believe Warriors in ‘07; and, much recently, last year’s Miami Heat.

The Hawks are different though. What makes them special lies not on what they just did (which, by the way, is awesome enough), but on what they will do.

Trae is 22 years old. Collins is 23. Cam is 21. Kevin Huerter is 22. De’Andre Hunter is 23. If the Hawks keep this core, and there’s no indication they won’t, then Atlanta should be a staple in the postseason for years to come. 

Only next time, wins from 20-point down wouldn’t be as shocking anymore. Perhaps they wouldn’t even be down 20 in the first place. Next time, taking down the top team in the East will no longer be called an upset.

After his moment with Holiday, Trae Young walked to the tunnel and practiced what Holiday preached. He kept going and kept talking. He looked up at the State Farm Arena crowd and said, "We'll be back."

The thing about Trae and the Hawks, they always back it up.