Opponents have had great difficulty lately in throwing Trae Young off his game, but referees Sunday apparently had no qualms about throwing the red-hot Atlanta Hawks rookie out of a game. Others thought the officials were out of line, after Young was ejected for apparently staring too intently at the back of an opponent. …

Young was deemed to have been taunting Kris Dunn of the Chicago Bulls, and the third-quarter infraction garnered him his second technical of the game. His first came after he and Dunn got into it in the first quarter, and thus the officiating crew may have been motivated to quell any further acts of ill will, but even Dunn said after the game that he was “stunned” at seeing Young get tossed.

Young had just hit a three-pointer from very long range with Dunn defending, prompting the Bulls to call a timeout. Dunn turned and started heading toward his bench, away from Young, who took a moment or two to watch the Chicago guard walk away, only to be shocked at getting a technical foul.

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“Trae Young is so good now that his taunts [apparently] warrant ejections,” Michael Lee of the Athletic said on Twitter. “Look, if the kid can pull up from 28 [feet] & drain a 3 in some dude’s face, he’s earned the right to do whatever he wants afterward. This tech is weak sauce.”

“You play with energy, passion, emotion. For me, I was just having fun,” Young said after the game, a 123-118 Hawks win at Chicago. “That wasn’t the first time I looked at someone after I hit a shot. But he made the call.”

Hawks Coach Lloyd Pierce said the explanation he was given for the ejection was “just talking.” He added that he found the quick whistle “bothersome” particularly because he didn’t feel Young had said or done anything particularly objectionable.

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In comments relayed by a pool reporter, the game’s officiating crew chief, Mark Ayotte, said Young “stared down his opponent.” Asked about making a judgment call between a taunt and an act of celebration, Ayotte said: “Taunting is directed at an opponent specifically. Celebration is not directed at an opponent.”

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Young exited the game with 18 points on 6-for-9 shooting, including 3 for 4 from three-point range, plus five assists. He was denied a chance at a fourth straight game with at least 35 points, which would have been the most for a rookie since Allen Iverson in 1996-97, part of a tear that had Young coming into the day with the most points scored in the NBA since the all-star break.

In the Hawks’ previous game, a 168-161 loss to the Bulls on Friday in four overtimes, Young torched Dunn and the Bulls for 49 points and 16 assists. The point total set a Hawks rookie record, and Young made history in these other ways:

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  • First NBA rookie with at least 45 points and 15 rebounds in a game
  • First rookie since Earl Monroe in 1968 with at least 49 points and 10 assists in a game
  • Third rookie in the past 40 years, following Michael Jordan and LeBron James, with at least 40 points and 10 assists in a game
  • Most points scored or assisted on (86) by a rookie in NBA history

That performance came just hours after Young was named Eastern Conference rookie of the month, after a February in which he became the first rookie to average at least 23.3 points and 9.3 assists in a month, with a minimum of 10 games played, since Oscar Robertson in 1961. Young had three games in February with at least 30 points and eight assists, making him the first rookie to do so in a month since Steph Curry in March 2010.

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In other words, Young, who was also named his conference’s rookie of the month in November and January, has long since justified the Hawks’ draft-day decision to deal Luka Doncic, whom they had taken with the third overall pick, to the Dallas Mavericks for Young, taken fifth, and a top-five-protected first-round pick this year. Doncic burst out of the gates with brilliant basketball, making an immediate case for rookie of the year honors — and Dallas almost certainly has no regrets at all about making the trade — but Young has also established himself as one of the league’s most exciting new talents.

Unfortunately for the University of Oklahoma product, he wasn’t able to showcase his talents past the early third quarter Sunday, thanks to an officiating decision that sparked an outcry from both the Hawks’ bench and on the Internet.

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“I think people come to see people have fun, make plays and enjoy the excitement,” Young said, somewhat diplomatically, of his act that led to the ejection. “I just try to go out there and do that.”

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