It started as a small chant Sunday, somewhere in the the upper deck, causing fans in the lower bowl to turn to neighbors in the baffling sound mixer of a big arena to ask, “What’re they saying?”
It picked up clarity as it moved down to the lower bowl, then to the court where the Atlanta star who had trouble with his cross-over Sunday now was called out for his comb-over.
“Trae is … balding!” the sing-song chant came in the second quarter of the Miami Heat’s 115-91 win in Game One of their playoff series.
Forget the previous five watered-down months of NBA basketball. Sunday was the real thing, the kind of day no one needs to be told to come to play.
Even this Heat crowd brought their playoff game. Balding chants on the opposing star? Inflammatory tactics with a smidge of creativity?
You got the feeling Young didn’t enjoy being so well known this night. The Heat’s defense switched constantly on him, all five Heat players guarding him on a first-half possession. His eight points was his lowest output in 143 Atlanta game dating to the start of last season.
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra spent some possessions whirling his arm and kicking his leg in a frantic marionette-gone-mad call to his well-scripted defense.
“You have to have an edge,’ he said.
There is a little Bill Belichick to Spoelstra, this idea of scheming against the best player and making others beat you. Swarm Young. Make him pass. Make him work for anything.
“Nothing Trae hasn’t seen before,’ Atlanta coach Nate McMillan said.
Young shot 1 of 12, the worst day of his career. He had six turnovers, once having his pocket picked by Kyle Lowry, resulting in an easy layup. He claimed to have his face scraped by Tyler Herro in a foul.
He got into a little dust-up with Jimmy Butler when they collided, then exchanged words, resulting in double technical fouls and Young pointing Butler’s way.
“Back to the drawing board,’ Young said afterward, a professional nonchalance to his voice, the kind the loser always employs in these potentially long series.
Young will respond. The best always do. The only question becomes if his response gets Atlanta to six games in this series?
In many ways, this was the easiest game to predict this series. The Heat was off for a week as the No. 1 seed. Atlanta had to win two play-in games to reach this game
“We played less than 48 hours ago, this is a one o’clock game, and we won three games in like five days to get here,’ Young said. “Talking to the guys, you definitely feel that.”
An explanation, not an excuse.
“Give them credit,’ he said of the Heat.
The Heat took credit, just as they took everything Sunday. There was Jimmy Butler slamming an alley-oop pass home and turning to Gabe Vincent to yell with an expletive, “That’s a great pass.”
There was Duncan Robinson making his seventh of a franchise-record eight 3-point shots, raising his arms like a referee and saying afterward, “I felt I couldn’t miss.”
This is who the Heat are, the deep and deeply intense team they’ve built. You saw nothing Sunday that you haven’t seen many times over a season.
This one just mattered more, because it’s the time everything matters. The NBA regular season is such a discounted idea, players skipping games, teams managing any injury, that you don’t really know who most teams are before this point.
You know the Heat. Atlanta? Who are they? They got some fortune and went to the Eastern Conference Finals a year ago. Now they’re an eighth seed without their best big man in Clint Capela.
“We’ve got to come out and play harder,” veteran Danilo Gallinari said. “It’s the playoffs. [Atlanta’s schedule] is not really an excuse. They were ready to play. we have no excuse for how we came out like we did.”
Young? He sounded like a veteran, saying, “It’s one game. If one game decided a series we would have won [the Eastern finals] and been in the NBA Finals last year.”
He’ll respond. Atlanta will, too. But if this Heat team plays like Sunday, a series that looked short will grow shorter still.
Source: Berkshire mont