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Finally, Some Crotch Abuse We Can All Feel Good About

Trae Young prepares to inbound the ball, defended by Marcus Smart.
Photo by Adam Hagy/NBAE via Getty Images

The Boston Celtics eliminated the Atlanta Hawks Thursday night. The lower-seeded Hawks put up a pretty good fight in this series. Good for them. The Hawks swapped head coaches mid-season, they've had shit vibes for most of the past two years, and they'll almost certainly overhaul much of their roster over the summer, after a second consecutive first-round playoff exit. But! They threw a scare into the Celtics, who are a real-deal title contender.

This was not a particularly easy series for a neutral fan to digest, for the simple fact that one of these teams is gross and dysfunctional and led on the court by a skittering little pest of a coach-killer, and the other is the Boston Celtics. Lately I find that some of the heat is dissipating from my distaste for Trae Young's whole deal—I am able to admit now that his creativity and physical daring as a ball-handler and playmaker are a much bigger part of his game than the dark-arts foul-baiting bullcrap that still makes me absolutely crazy—though I am not yet able to bring myself to root for him. But rooting for Young to fail in a playoff series against the Celtics would put me in a temporary alliance with Boston sports fans, which is the kind of thing for which there should be a governmental registry, and possibly compulsory lobotomization. Meanwhile a long history of disappointment has taught me that the cosmos simply cannot be counted upon to deliver an asteroid when you need one.

Thankfully, the second half of Game 6 had quite a lot to offer for the shit-hearted hater who wants misery for both sides. There was a stretch of the third and early fourth quarters where it really seemed like the Hawks were going to force a Game 7. Clint Capela and Onyeka Okongwu seemed to disrupt or discourage or simply swat away every shot the Celtics attempted inside of the three-point arc. Dejounte Murray caught fire. Young wasn't doing any scoring, and in fact he seemed somewhat discombobulated by swarming traps and the hellacious individual defense of Marcus Smart, but also he was knifing into the paint when presented with slivers of space and swinging the ball sharply to open teammates. The Celtics were on the back foot; the impression they gave off was one almost of punch-drunkenness. But also, confusingly and delightfully, despite seeming to be in total control of both ends of the court the Hawks somehow never led by more than five points in the second half. I had to double-check that this morning. It still seems perfectly impossible.

Malcolm Brogdon, of all people, seemed for a stretch to be the only Celtics player able to see above the muck, coolly dribbling his way to advantageous spots on the floor and rising up for perfectly comfortable shots. Meanwhile the Hawks gave the impression that they could get an on-target lob pass or rhythm elbow jumper at will. But quietly a funny thing was happening, or rather not happening: Young, who scored 25 points in the first half, was missing all of his shots. At about the eight-minute mark of the third quarter, Young dribbled to the free-throw line and knocked down a contested 17-footer, and was fouled on the play. Prior to that he'd bricked a hasty 31-foot three-point attempt from way out on the wing and brutally missed a bad floater made worse by his instinct to try to force a whistle by throwing his body sideways into a defender. This and-one bucket over Al Horford seemed like it would get Young back on track. Instead, over the remaining 20 minutes of the game Young attempted and missed 10 shots. His only points after this jumper came when the referees fell for his baloney and gifted him a pair of free throws for flinging his limbs out theatrically.

Some clutch threes finally pushed the Celtics out ahead and the Hawks to the brink of elimination. Finally, with Boston ahead six points inside the final 19 seconds, the game offered up the The Hater's Delight: 25 seconds of a desperate Trae Young repeatedly flinging the basketball into the dick and balls of Marcus Smart, and, for good measure, five seconds of De'Andre Hunter very nearly pegging the basketball into the dick and balls of Al Horford:

To me this is a fine way for a game between the Hawks and Celtics to end: With the players on one team taking turns winding up and firing the ball into the tender midsections of players on the other team, and the referee blowing the whistle and then handing the ball to the next guy, and the clock advancing by fractions of a second, and another member of the defending team stepping up and presenting his vulnerable crotch for a fresh round of abuse. This is not the reckless, angry ball-targeting that has marred the early stages of these playoffs. This is sanctioned, strategically defensible ball-targeting, the sophisticate's groin punishment. Smart even smiled about having the ball rifled directly into his beans. I would watch 48 minutes of this.

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