Staring a potential 3-1 deficit before returning home, the Knicks have the chance to even their first-round series with the Hawks while still in Atlanta.

It’s the playoffs, so calling Sunday a must-win game is kind of redundant, but it’s also very much true.

Once again, the New York Knicks (1-2) are back on their heels, entering Game 4 with a need to come up with the equalizer by any means necessary. They answered the call after a series-opening loss, and they’ll need to do it again before they head back to Madison Square Garden.

Down 2-1 in the series after the most frustrating outing since earlier this month, the Knicks will look to avoid edging one step closer to the dreaded gentleman’s sweep and even the series instead.

Game 4 is set to tip-off on Sunday, at 1 p.m. ET on ABC.

Struggling stars

Credit Trae Young and the Atlanta Hawks (2-1) for stepping it up and adjusting after getting swept by the Knicks throughout the regular season. Young especially has elevated his play, while New York’s leading man is struggling to get going.

There were hopes that third time would be the charm and that Julius Randle would hit his stride, but he stalled out again in Game 3 and it showed. The Knicks slipped up with a meager 13-point second quarter, and they never truly recovered.

For Randle, it was his worst performance of the series so far, finishing with 14 points and 11 boards, with an ugly 2-of-15 shooting performance on the floor (13.3%).

Although the Knicks have previously been able to pull out wins despite a cold-shooting night from Randle, there hasn’t been a stretch like this since probably last season. It’s coming at the worst possible time, and the Knicks can only hope he breaks out of his slump sooner than later.

He’s not the only one to blame though. R.J. Barrett also put up his worst performance of the series the last time out, with only seven points on 2-of-9 shooting. On the biggest stage and series of the year, these two have to get going. The Knicks can’t afford another lackluster showing down 2-1.

Patching up the defense

After posting the top scoring and three-point defense in the league throughout the regular season, the Knicks took a step back in Game 3. While players individually struggled, the Knicks allowed an uncharacteristic amount of threes against the Hawks the last time out.

Atlanta set up shop from the three-point line and connected on 16-of-27 long-range attempts, cashing in on 59.3% from deep. Young wasn’t even the biggest problem, but he did a great job of dishing out 14 assists and setting up his teammates. Kevin Huerter and Bogdan Bogdanovic each went 3-for-4 from beyond the arc, and Danilo Gallinari was a perfect 4-for-4 off the bench.

As good as Young has been playing, it was truly a balanced effort. Sure he led the way, but six other Hawks scored in double figures in the winning effort.

In the regular season, although Young got his points and assists, he and the rest of his teammates were unable to get going from long range.

Now in the postseason, if Randle, Barrett, and others are unable to get going offensively, the Knicks especially can’t afford a hot-shooting day from the three-point line by their opponents.

Lastly, it goes without saying at this point, but the Knicks need to find a way to contain Young.

Silver linings and Rose-colored glasses

Ask and you shall receive…four or so months later.

As frustrating as Game 3 was, it wasn’t all terrible. Knicks fans had wanted to see a lineup change that shifted Elfrid Payton to the bench, and they got it. Derrick Rose tore it up as a member of the starting five and was the only Knick that got into a groove offensively.

It’s hard to imagine that Tom Thibodeau sees that kind of production and goes back to Payton moving forward, but there were plenty of Knicks fans that felt validated in seeing D-Rose go off, while Payton came in off the bench.

Rose has been getting better with each playoff game in this series. Hopefully, he can continue his production and there will be other Knicks joining him, but who would’ve thought he would be leading the Knicks in scoring at 24.3 points per playoff game?

Also, he’s only averaging 5.7 points per game this series, but it feels like Obi Toppin should have way more. He’s provided the highlight slams and has found a way to generate energy off the bench. Each alley-oop feels like it should be worth 10 points, but at the very least, it’s nice to see him carve a role in the playoffs.

 

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