Trae Young, his thin curly hair shining with strands of silver, is giving his Hall of Fame speech in front of a live audience who have all learned to love and respect the basketball player that he is.
In his speech, which he’s reading from a mini teleprompter embedded in his contact lens, he talks about the game that brought him there: Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semis against the Philadelphia 76ers, June 17, 2021.
Years down the line, regardless of the series outcome, that’s how Game 5 would and should be remembered. It’s the game that made Trae Young believe, the game that made Trae Young invincible.
The season of Trae’s Atlanta Hawks was in the hands of a (supposedly) stronger, better Sixers team in Game 5 in Philly. The Hawks faced the reality that the second round is the farthest they could get to. That’s not too bad.
Getting the fifth seed, crashing the New York Knicks party, and avoiding getting swept by the top team in the East—a young Hawks team have already over-accomplished.
Down 24 with a minute left in the second quarter, Ben Simmons ran a fastbreak all by himself against three Hawks defenders and effortlessly finished with a right-handed layup off a Euro step. The lead was 26.
Coming back from that hole, away from home, with Joel Embiid somehow developing healing powers, it was virtually impossible.
But something happened after that, something out of the ordinary. It was all quite a blur, really, with a ton of Lou Williams buckets and a couple of Danilo Gallinari jumpers. The lead was 18. Young, trapped by two defenders, throws a behind-the-back pass to John Collins for a 3. The lead was eight.
Led by Young’s playmaking, the Hawks kept on knocking and knocking, while the Sixers kept slipping. Trae floater. Trae layup. Trae jumper. The lead was four. Trae floater again. Trae free throws. Blink, blink, Atlanta in the lead.
A lot of talks revolved around the Sixers’ monumental collapse. How Embiid and Seth Curry were the only Sixers to score a field goal in the second half. How Tobias Harris vanished. How Simmons missed 10 free throws. How the Sixers gave up 40 points in the fourth. How Philly, as an entire unit, opened the door and welcomed Trae Young into their home.
Young responded with 13 points in the last five minutes, including a couple of cold-blooded free throws. It was a performance that superseded his previous one, and the previous one before that. In every challenge thrown Trae’s way, he somehow can rise above it, then rise much higher. We should really talk more about that.
The series now goes back to Atlanta, with the Hawks a win away from the Eastern Conference finals. Should the Sixers snap out of the funk and follow the script, winning two straight games is not a farfetched concept. They will continue on to the next round as expected, although bruised and limping from the war that Trae Young and the Hawks gave them.
Should the Hawks close and do what was deemed impossible, then we should rewatch Game 5 and appreciate it in all its glory. It’s the game that made Trae Young believe, the game that made Trae Young invincible.