After a thrilling, come-from-behind victory on Wednesday, the Knicks have a chance to earn a first-round series lead over the Hawks in Game 3 on the road.

The New York Knicks (1-1), two days removed from a huge Game 2 victory, look to even up the series at one game apiece and to keep the momentum rolling in Atlanta for tonight’s pivotal Game 3.

New York squandered away home-court advantage this series after Hawks rising star Trae Young hit a clutch floater to give the Atlanta Hawks (1-1) the Game 1 win. The Knicks responded in Game 2, but it was not as easy as you’d hope. The Knicks went down as much as 15 points on Wednesday night in front of 16,000 stunned fans. The silence from the home crowd shortly turned to deafening cheers as savvy veteran guard Derrick Rose took over after head coach Tom Thibodeau gave him the second-half start over Elfrid Payton. Rose ended the game with 26 points, four rebounds, and four assists. He carried the load offensively on a night the rest of the team struggled to see shots fall.

Some around the NBA believe that Game 3 is the most important in the series. In a Game 3, it’s either a chance for a team to effectively end the series by going up 3-0, or establish home-court advantage again by going up 2-1, and historically, the majority of teams who win Game 3 go on to win the series (73.3% of the time).

So what can the Knicks do tonight to walk out of State Farm Arena with a 2-1 lead in the thriving 4-5 matchup?

Gritty Defense

New York has done a great job all year “mucking” up the game. They grind out possessions, they play slow, they play physically, they rarely allow easy buckets, and games are very low scoring. They do everything that New Yorkers love out of a Knicks team. In Game 1, they did not do enough of that. The Hawks looked way too comfortable offensively, especially Trae Young. Young is a maestro in the pick-and-roll, and in Game 1 he proved just that after generating 40 points alone in pick-and-roll situations. New York was over helping on the lob man, giving Young wide-open floaters in the lane too often.

The best way to go about stopping this dynamic pick-and-roll offense with Capela and Young is to take away the good, high percentage looks at the basket, and settle with the three. The Hawks are a threat from outside with guys like Bogdan Bogdanovic, Kevin Huerter, John Collins, and Tony Snell, but the Knicks are one of the best teams in the Association at guarding the three-point line. To begin the season, some thought that New York’s opponent shooting percentage from three would increase, but it simply never did. As they say, the Knicks defense is “on a string” when scrambling, switching, and closing out after the ball is swung around the perimeter. What looks like an easy shot at first, usually ends up being a good contest and close out from one of the Knicks’ defenders.

If the Knicks can consistently take away good looks at the rim, like they have all year, the game will be played at their pace, increasing their chance at victory.

Start D-Rose

All season long Elfrid Payton has been the starting point guard for New York, which has certainly caused a rift between the team and fans. In Game 2, Coach Thibodeau seemed to finally realize the offense with Payton on the floor is not as effective as it is with Derrick Rose or rookie Immanuel Quickley. If Payton was the starter all year to keep Rose fresh for the playoffs, then the plan worked; it’s time to start him. Rose has arguably been the Knicks’ best player through two games, the offense with him on the floor is night and day, and he’s the reason the Knicks aren’t down 0-2 in the series.

Payton logged eight minutes in Game 1, and only five in Game 2. What is the purpose of even playing him at that point?

Julius Randle Struggles

Knicks star Julius Randle has had quite the disappointing start to his first career playoff action. The NBA’s Most Improved Player is averaging 15.0 points on 28.2% shooting for the series, but both games have been close until the very end, which is extremely encouraging.

Randle played some of his best basketball in the regular season against the Atlanta Hawks. In three regular-season games against Atlanta, the first-time All-Star averaged 37.3 points, shooting 58.1% from the field and 50.0% from three, although the Hawks were without their best wing defender in second-year wing De’Andre Hunter in the third regular-season matchup, where Randle poured in 40 points.

Is Hunter really Julius Randle’s kryptonite, or is he just forcing a bit too much in his first playoff action? It might be a bit of both, but a Randle explosion is bound to happen. He was too good against this team in the regular season to think what he has shown in the first two games is indicative of what the remainder of this series has in store for him. Expect a better performance from the Knicks’ best player in Game 3.

Injuries

The only Knickerbocker on the injury report is center Mitchell Robinson, who remains out following right foot surgery. All other Knicks are ready to go.

The Knicks are healthy, hungry, and eager to reclaim home-court advantage in this series with a statement victory in Game 3. The game takes place tonight at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN.

 

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