The Knicks fell in Game 5 to the Hawks as Trae Young taunted the home crowd and sent New York packing after the first successful season in eight years.
It was a good season. The New York Knicks (1-4) fell 103-89 to the Atlanta Hawks (4-1) at Madison Square Garden, dropping the series in five games.
It’s fitting that the first quarter was a 21-21 draw. The Knicks started cold once again, yet woke up on the strength of three Reggie Bullock three-pointers and 10 points from Julius Randle. Randle came out as he should have, like a man on a mission, corralling eight boards. The Hawks wrestled momentum away ever so slightly thanks to favorable whistles, shooting 14 free throws in the first half compared to only six for the Knicks. Still, the game felt like a draw heading into the locker room with the Knicks trailing 52-47.
The Hawks emerged from the locker room, following a skirmish at the end of the first half, as the more aggressive team. Randle, conversely, put together his worst stretch of the game with costly turnovers, which helped the Hawks build a double-digit lead. As the quarter when on, momentum began to shift completely over to the Hawks. The Knick offense remained stagnant as the Hawks finally started to connect on their shots.
Something remarkable happened as the fourth quarter started—Tom Thibodeau played his good, young players and the team suddenly had energy again. The euphoria was short-lived, however, as Thibodeau re-inserted Bullock and the cold Randle and the Hawks regained control.
There were some glimmers of hope, but the Hawks answered any Knicks bucket with a bucket of their own as they made it clear who the better team was. Trae Young was the runaway best player in this series and had the better supporting cast, and will now hopefully become the Reggie Miller for this era of Knicks fans and the Hawks are hopefully the Knicks’ newest rivals.
Thankfully, the MSG faithful made sure to show their appreciation for this team as the game reached its conclusion. “Let’s go Knicks” chants rang out in the final seconds and the players made peace.
Failure to Adjust
Basketball is not as difficult as we sometimes make it out to be. The Knicks lost this series because they refused to play the matchup game, and when they did, they made piss poor decisions.
The Knicks were getting pulverized on the glass all series and struggling to score points. Rather than tap into Obi Toppin’s growing confidence, Thibodeau stayed with defensive-minded Taj Gibson and Nerlens Noel.
However, the unforgivable failure was playing the matchup game with Bullock and Young. Bullock did not do a poor job on Young this series, but he also did not provide defense that could not have been found elsewhere. Bullock’s stationary offense made life on defense extremely easy for Young, which kept him fresh to wreak havoc.
These are easy adjustments that were not made for unknown reasons. The Knicks did not make their shots all series, yes, but Thibodeau might have had the worst series of them all, mixing stubbornness with a lack of creativity when it came to counter-punching, and it cost the Knicks in the end.
Julius Randle appeared to have woken up at the perfect time. He came out with tons of energy and started to hit the shots we have become accustomed to seeing him hit. He finished the first half with 15 points and 10 rebounds. Beyond the numbers, the sheer energy Randle played with showed the urgency of his actions.
Then the second half came. Randle added just eight more points the rest of the way and tallied an alarming eight turnovers. He never got back under control and the game got away from the Knicks.
The struggles Randle endured throughout the series mirror the struggles he experienced last season.
The Little Things
R.J. Barrett’s first-half stat line wasn’t anything special: seven points (2-of-8 shooting), four rebounds, three assists, and one block.
Barrett did, however, make the greatest contribution at the very start of the game, showing the maturity of his game is beyond his years. Reggie Bullock’s first attempt of the night was hilariously swatted by Clint Capela. If you remember, Bullock had zero points in Game 4, so another bad game was not unthinkable.
Needed more Corner RJ tonight 😞 pic.twitter.com/89FpKpuvme
— The Knicks Wall (@TheKnicksWall) June 3, 2021
Barrett grabbed the board from the block and swung it right back to Bullock in the corner for the three, and fed Reggie again off the break. The result was a confident Reggie, and when the veteran wing is confident the whole floor opens up. Bullock ended up with four threes in the first and it could be credited to those opening minutes. Barrett realizing the importance of Bullock is that basketball I.Q. that people not plugged into the Knicks get to appreciate, but it’s the best part of Barrett’s game.
- Julius Randle’s sudden yips on three-pointers was the most confusing part of this series.
- Tom Thibodeau made the correct call to play Barrett with the second unit over the stationary Bullock and the adjustment looked as good as we thought it would.
- For some self-described tough guys, the Hawks sure did whine a lot in the first half. Trae Young ever complaining is especially funny given how much the referees coddle him.
- The little meeting of the minds at halfcourt heading into halftime lost any intrigue once Solomon Hill was found to be at the center of it. Clearly, Hill wanted his few seconds of camera time before returning to his seat at the end of the bench.
- Immanuel Quickley hid his patented 30-foot bomb to start his night then disappeared until the end of the game. Given the chore scoring was, it made little sense for a spark-plug scorer like Quickley to see such few minutes.
- Obi Toppin played 10 minutes after putting together his best performance of the season in Game 4. That is beyond infuriating.
OBI CUTS IT TO SINGLE DIGITS pic.twitter.com/ZL6tnhyMLa
— The Knicks Wall (@TheKnicksWall) June 3, 2021
- Evergreen topic for this series, but the offense absolutely stunk. The core of the roster is good, but there needs to be some major offensive upgrades this summer.
- Speaking of evergreen topics, the big winner of this series is Mitchell Robinson. His missing presence allowed the Hawks to control the paint the entire series.
- Marv Albert officially called his final game at Madison Square Garden. The longtime commentator will retire at the end of the season and was able to call one last game at the arena where his career started.