Tom Thibodeau’s Knicks were a formidable regular-season team, but their flaws were exposed in that depressing first-round streak against the Hawks.
Julius Randle was a bit better and RJ Barrett was a lot better, but neither was enough to stifle Atlanta’s armament, as the Hawks put the Knicks on the brink with the 113 win. Sunday’s -96 past 16,458 at the noisy State Farm Arena.
The Knicks are in a 3-1 hole in the Top Seven series and have never recovered from that deficit in their history. Only 13 teams out of 260 instances have already recovered from a 3-1 deficit.
Game 5 returns to the Garden on Wednesday. In the fourth quarter, Atlanta fans began chanting “Hawks in Five” as they rose 23 points.
“It was a hotly contested first and second quarter,” said Thibodeau. “The third quarter, we came back on our heels, the rebound was a problem from the start. We have to fix it. We need to fix it quickly.
Shooting 24% early in the afternoon, Randle scored 23 points, his playoff-high, and added seven assists and 10 rebounds, but only shot 7 for 19 and committed five turnovers. He was the target of “overrated” chants throughout the game.
Barrett added 21 points in a good outing. and Derrick Rose was still there with 18 points, although 10 points came in the first eight minutes.
But they had nothing else. They couldn’t get anything from Reggie Bullock (0-for-4, three 3-pointers missed) or enough consistency from Alec Burks (4-for-12).
Atlanta pulled off a 15-5 run to start the second half to take a 68-54 lead. Trae Young (27 points, nine assists) started the surge with a 3 point and a float. John Collins finished with a tough and contested foul line jumper over Randle, then an open 3 point. They were leading 88-71 after three quarters on a 3 points from Bogdan Bogdanovic. Six Hawks finished in double digits scoring.
The Knicks were battling the Hawks, leading by five points in the second quarter. But a shoddy streak cost them momentum. Randle missed a short jumper, throwing Young on a quick break as the flashy point guard threw up an alley-oop pass to John Collins for a monstrous slam.
Randle flipped it over and Bogdanovic came down and punched a 3 to give the Hawks their biggest halftime lead at 51-44 with 2:20 left. The Hawks were leading 53-49 at intermission.
Randle scored 12 points in the first half, shooting just 4 for 12, but looked more alike in his decision making. Barrett had seven points after a quarter – his total in Game 3. Barrett sprinkled a powerful practice, a 3-point and two free throws for another solid foray into the basket. The Knicks were leading 26-25 after one.
It was also a powerful lead battle in the half with Rose outscoring Young 16-15.
New starting center Taj Gibson expected the Knicks to bounce back with a vengeance – as they’ve been doing all season.
“When you play for the Knicks for this playoff series, it has already prepared us a bit mentally,” Gibson said before the game. “Because when you play in New York all year round you are constantly criticized, ridiculed and that sets you up. This is why our team is so tight-knit. We are therefore ready to bounce back. It’s our mentality.
But that did not happen.