Opinion: Hawks’ chances of pulling another NBA playoff upset might be felled by fluke injury to Trae Young

ATLANTA — The image of Trae Young in any kind of physical distress is an extinction-level scare for the Atlanta Hawks.

So when he was sitting on the floor at the most critical juncture of the Eastern Conference finals thus far, pulling at his right ankle while trainers examined him, it was by far the unluckiest of many unlucky breaks they’ve had to overcome on this improbable run. 

Of all things that could go wrong, Young had stepped on the foot of referee Sean Wright with 29.3 seconds left in the third quarter Sunday. After a trip to the locker room, Young got back on the floor for his regular fourth-quarter minutes but he wasn’t the same. His aggressiveness and explosiveness had diminished to the point where he spent most of crunch time hanging out in the corner, not initiating key possessions like he has in every other close game in these playoffs. 

“When he returned to the floor, he was obviously limping on that,” Hawks coach Nate McMillan said. 

Young’s ankle only partly explains the Milwaukee Bucks emerging from Game 3 with a 113-102 win and control of the series at 2-1, but it very much symbolizes the Hawks’ predicament: Running out of steam, running out of healthy joints and ligaments and ultimately running out of time.

Needless to say, if Young is compromised or unavailable for Game 4, this is going to be a quick and forgettable ending for a team that has authored some moments that rank among the best this franchise has ever experienced. 

But even if he’s able to bounce back, Atlanta is starting to look like a team that might have pushed this thing as far as it can go.

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