Atlanta Hawks guard Trae Young came into the 2020-21 NBA season developing a reputation as an empty-stats superstar.
He'll leave it having more than earned his playoff stripes after the Hawks reached the Eastern Conference Finals.
"All I wanted to do this season was prove that I can win," Young told reporters after Atlanta's Game 6 118-107 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks.
Young scored just 14 points on 4-of-17 shooting as he returned from an ankle injury that cost him Games 4 and 5.
"This s--t is hard," Young said of postseason basketball. "It's not easy. This whole thing is about experience. You have to go through it to—I mean, you really have to go through this. You see in the West, you see [Chris Paul] has never been to the Finals in his 16 years.
"This is hard. It's not easy. You really have to go through it. I think what he did and what he's been through really helped the Suns team, and what this team has been through with the Bucks, they've been to this point a couple times. I know that feeling; they didn't want to go home again. I think for us we've got that same feeling now, and it's the same thing."
Young averaged 28.8 points, 9.5 assists and 2.8 rebounds during Atlanta's postseason run, becoming public enemy No. 1 in New York and Philadelphia as he clowned crowds while eliminating the Knicks and Sixers. He seemed to embrace the role of postseason villain in those cities while becoming arguably the most must-see star of these playoffs on a national level.
Concerns about his game's ability to translate to the postseason proved unfounded. Young drew fouls at a similar rate to the regular season, knocked down regular 30-footers and, at times, single-handedly willed the Hawks to wins over favored opponents.
The run took an unfortunate turn when Young went down with an injury in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals, becoming the latest in a series of stars to suffer injuries this postseason. Young said it was "frustrating" to be forced out for series-changing games.
"For me, not being able to be out there for my team for two games, and then tonight just wanting to battle and try to fight through it as much as I could and try to be out there for my team, it's definitely frustrating not being healthy and not being able to give my full 100 percent."