The New York Knicks’ frustration reached its boiling point in the closing moments of an ugly Game 4 loss.
Julius Randle and Reggie Bullock, who played a solid two-man game throughout the regular season, were reduced to shooting targets on defense and misfiring triggermen on offense. Each received a flagrant foul penalty 1 call that encapsulated the Knicks’ struggles on Sunday.
It will be a long flight home for the Knicks who are now on the brink of elimination, starting at a 3-1 series deficit.
Trae Young continued to haunt New York with his impeccable shooting and razor-sharp playmaking as Atlanta ran away with a 113-96 masterclass.
No one expected the Knicks to grab the fourth seed and pick up a playoff win. But only a few saw this overachieving New York squad unraveling at the worst possible time.
Young came just one assist shy of putting up another double-double with 27 points and nine assists. But there was no need for it as Atlanta drew a total team effort. The younger Hawks ran the older Knicks to the ground.
The wheels fell off for New York in the third quarter. Young scored on consecutive pull-up jumpers to ignite an Atlanta 15-5 start inside the first five minutes that stretched a four-point halftime edge to a comfortable 68-54 lead. It was all the Hawks needed to knock the Knicks out in the game.
Atlanta led by as many as 26 in the second half as New York couldn’t answer the Hawks riddle.
As long-time NBA scout Michael Vandegarde pointed out to Empire Sports Media before the start of the series, the Hawks have simply more weapons.
It cannot be overstated.
Young drew plenty of help anew as five more Hawks scored in double figures. John Collins bounced back from a busted lip with 22 points and eight rebounds — his contributions more telling than Randle’s best game of the series.
Facing pressure and chants of “Overrated” from the Hawks crowd, Randle started aggressively and put up a 23-point, 10-rebound, 7-assist effort. But it was not enough. Randle shot better (7-of-19) than the previous three games (24.1 percent) but a lot of times, he was forcing the issue. His shot selection and decision-making still left a lot to be desired. Bullock went scoreless in 35 minutes.
Atlanta’s bench outscored New York for the second straight game with former Knick Danilo Gallinari exploding for 21 points on top of his stout defense on Randle.
Game 5 is on Wednesday at The Garden with the Knicks facing only two options — survive or death knell.
A 3-1 series deficit is tall odds but not impossible to overcome. The Knicks will be trying to become the 14th team in league history to beat those odds after the Denver Nuggets did it twice in the Orlando Bubble last season.
But first, the Knicks must play with a sense of urgency that was sorely lacking in their three losses in the series.
It was the younger Hawks who played with a lot more poise and a physical game that continually wore down the Knicks.
It’s discomforting to think the Knicks have a shot after watching Randle and RJ Barrett snapping out of their slump yet still losing by a mile.
Barrett (8-of-15) and Derrick Rose (7-of-15) chipped in 21 and 18 points in the losing effort. The offensive limitation of this Knicks’ roster has manifested in these games where intensity and pressure picked up.
As desperation creeps in, can the Knicks respond with a season-saving win?
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