At halftime of Game 2, the Knicks’ storybook season was on life support. And the prognosis was not good.
Atlanta led by 13, 57-44, with Trae Young setting the pace scoring 20. Julius Randle was 0-of-6 shooting and his confidence seemed shaken having gone 6-of-30 through three halves of basketball in the series. He and the rest of the Knicks were passing up good shots. New York didn’t have the personnel to take Young out of the game or target him on defense.
Then came the third quarter.
Derrick Rose kept them alive, and then the Knicks found their three-point stroke hitting 7-of-10 in the frame (led by Randle, who hit 2-of-3 and was 4-of-5 shooting overall in the third). Meanwhile, the Hawks went cold — 5-of-18 shooting overall, 1-of-7 from three — and by the end of the quarter the Knicks have taken the lead by a point, and Madison Square Garden was rocking.
— NBC Sports (@NBCSports) May 27, 2021
It was a tight game the rest of the way, tied 91-91 with five minutes left, but when it mattered the Knicks defensive energy was high and the Hawks cold shooting returned — they missed eight in a row down the stretch — and New York pulled away for a 101-92 win.
It was the Knicks’ first playoff win since 2013 and a powerful moment for long-suffering Knicks fans.
The Knicks win evens the series at 1-1 as the series shifts back to Atlanta — where there will be no chants about Young’s hairline —on Friday. Atlanta will have a full-capacity crowd ready to show the Knicks the same “love” New York fans showed Young and the Hawks.
There were two heroes for the Knicks.
Derrick Rose is at the top of the list. His 14 points off the bench in the first half was the only thing that kept the Knicks within range of a comeback. In the second half he added another dozen, finishing with 26, plus he guarded Trae Young for stretches. Rose was the only player having any success for the Knicks for long stretches and Thibodeau leaned heavily on him for 39 minutes — validating a mid-season pick-up that was brushed aside by most NBA pundits.
The other was Hawks coach Nate McMillan. As it has all season, Atlanta’s offense sputtered when Young was on the bench, but McMillan sat him for an extended 5:46 through the end of the third and the start of the fourth (a stretched that included a quarter break and a long TV timeout). In those nearly six minutes, Atlanta scored six total points, and what had been a tie game was a 10-point deficit the Hawks had to crawl back from. Bogdanovic was also out for much of that stretch. McMillan defended his rotations postgame saying Young played 35 minutes, but with the chance to go up 2-0 in a series normal rotations need to be pushed.
Atlanta did fight back from being 10 down make it a game late, but it took something out of them, and in the end the Knicks’ defense — which got them the surprising four seed this season — earned them this win. Atlanta had an offensive rating of 92 for the game, scoring less than a point per possession. Some of that was pure luck, the Hawks missed shots they traditionally knock down, but give the hustle of New York on the defensive end some credit. They have held a lot of teams down this season.
Whether they can do it on the road in a raucous State Farm Arena in Atlanta Friday night will be a new level of test.