Hawks back up talks, send Knicks to vacation

RJ Barrett guaranteed a New York Knicks win. But it was Clint Capela and the Atlanta Hawks who walked the talk.

Capela had a monster double-double while Trae Young had another masterclass. The Hawks methodically wore down the Knicks, who were running on empty gas.

New York once again faded down the stretch as Atlanta ended the Knicks’ fairytale season with a dominant 103-89 win Wednesday night at The Garden.

True to his promise, Capela had a big hand in sending the Knicks to an early vacation. He dominated the paint with 14 points and 15 rebounds that complemented Young’s 36-point, 9-assist performance.

The Knicks had simply no answer.

It was the Hawks’ young core who shone under the bright lights of the playoffs.

Young averaged 29.2 points and 9.8 assists in a rousing playoff debut. He joined Michael Jordan as the only Knicks opponent who scored three straight 30-point games at the Madison Square Garden in the playoffs, per ESPN Stats & Info.

“I texted him before the playoffs started and told him he’s built for this time of the season with the confidence he brings to the floor, his skill level for scoring the basketball and creating opportunities,” Atlanta interim coach Nate McMillan said. “It’s really tough to game plan against him.”

Young silenced the Knicks crowd with his stellar play. He was never rattled and showed the poise of a superstar.

De’Andre Hunter, listed as probable to play, added 15 points on 6-of-11 shooting from the floor. John Collins chipped in 13 points while Bogdan Bogdanovic and Kevin Huerter combined for 17 points.

Julius Randle led the Knicks with 23 and 13 rebounds. But he was only 8-for-21. And worst, he committed eight turnovers.

If Young’s playoff debut was spectacular, Randle had the exact opposite. He was a flop. After a regular season that saw him rise to a first-time All-Star and the hands-down Most Improved Player of the Year, Randle shrunk in the big moments.

He couldn’t shake off the Hawks’ defensive schemes and missed the tough jumpers he routinely made throughout the regular season. He went 28-for-94 and had more turnovers (23) than assists (20) in the series.

“It’s tough for me to process that right now the way things ended, but we’ll be back,” Randle said.

It will be interesting to see how he will approach the summer where he is eligible for an extension after his underwhelming playoff performance.

The Knicks could offer Randle a four-year, $106 million extension, but he could earn a more lucrative contract in 2022 free agency if he can rise from this playoff debacle.

Barrett, who snapped back at New York Post’s Marc Berman hours before tip-off, bled for 17 points on 14 shots. Derrick Rose silently battled a nagging injury and played his worst game of the series with just six points on 3-of-11 shooting.

It was the Knicks’ fifth exit in their last six playoffs opener. Their only win came in 2013 when a Carmelo Anthony-led Knicks team tossed the Boston Celtics in six games.

Michael Vandegarde, a scout for the Philadelphia 76ers scout for 18 years and now a consultant to multiple NBA teams, told Empire Sports Media before the series started that the Hawks have more than enough firepower to overwhelm the Knicks.

It did.

But despite the early playoff exit, the Knicks were ahead of their rebuilding schedule.

Tom Thibodeau was able to squeeze 41 wins from a core tipped to compete for the lottery instead of the playoffs. Oddsmakers pegged them as a 22.5-win team, but they have overachieved and broke the franchise’s seven-year playoff drought.

Thibodeau successfully hid his team’s lack of elite firepower by building a stout defense anchored on Randle’s rise as an All-Star and the team’s collective effort. But in the playoffs, their foundation collapsed with Randle.

“I told our guys this, I’m proud of what our team accomplished this year,’’ Thibodeau said. “Obviously disappointed with the result tonight. Hopefully, we can learn and get better from it. But I thought our guys gave us everything they had all year long. I’m very proud of them. Hopefully, we can take this and use it as motivation for the work we have to get done in the summer in preparation for next year.’’

The game was close in the first half as emotions ran high. Taj Gibson jawed at the Hawks after a rebound scramble. Randle, Nerlens Noel, and Atlanta’s veteran Solomon Hill earned a technical foul each after a heated moment before the break.

Randle sparked the fracas after throwing the ball on Young, who was down on the floor right before the halftime buzzer. Noel gave Young a shoulder bump on their way to their locker rooms. Hill pushed Noel, and the two players had to be separated.

Randle started the third quarter with a three-pointer as the Knicks cut the Hawks’ lead to three, 53-50, but it proved to be their last gallant stand.

Atlanta responded with a 13-4 run. The Knicks shot a woeful 5-of-18 shooting in that pivotal third quarter that did them in.

The Hawks advanced to the second round against the Philadelphia 76ers, who eliminated the Washington Wizards in five games on the same night.

Meanwhile, the Knicks head to the offseason with four draft picks (19th, 21st, 32nd, and 58th) and up to $50 million cap space.

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Knicks on the rope: Trae Young, Hawks deliver killer blow in Game 4

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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Knicks’ Randle continues to struggle as Hawks soar to 2-1 lead

knicks, julius randle

The New York Knicks could not recapture their magical Game 2 run despite Tom Thibodeau finally pulling the plug on Elfrid Payton.

Derrick Rose was in full bloom in his first start in the series but Julius Randle continued to struggle in a 105-94 loss to the Hawks Friday night at the State Farm Arena in Atlanta.

Trae Young led seven Hawks in double figures as they grabbed a 2-1 series lead.

After the Knicks bottled up Young in the second half of Game 2, the Hawks’ star exited The Garden yelling, “See you in the A, see you in the A!” Young walked the talk as he spearheaded the Hawks’ relentless attack.

The 22-year old Young dropped 14 points and 10 assists in the first half. With Young in total control, the Hawks went on a 22-5 run to end the second quarter that broke the game wide open.

Atlanta led 58-44 at the break. Unlike in Game 2, New York did not have an answer in the second half.

Randle missed 13 of his 15 attempts that epitomized the Knicks’ offensive woes. They were a woeful 35.8 percent from the floor. RJ Barrett hit rock-bottom in the series clunking seven of his nine attempts.

Randle is now shooting an ugly 13-of-54 (24.1%) in the series — the worst field goal percentage by any player in his first 3 playoff games in the shot clock era, per ESPN Stats & Info — after averaging 37.3 points on 55 percent clip in their regular-season sweep of the Hawks.

Rose was the only Knick who shot above 50 percent with the 32-year old guard scoring a season-high 30 points. He went 13-for-21 while adding six rebounds and five assists but didn’t have any help.

The rest of the team was a dreadful 16-of-60 from the field.

With their engine in trouble, the Knicks were a trainwreck. The Hawks, on the other hand, were on target all night hitting 16-of-27 3s and shot 52 percent overall from the floor.

Young continued his impressive play in his playoff debut with 21 points and 14 assists. The Hawks’ star is now averaging 27.7 points and 10.3 assists in the series. He is now the 5th player to average 25 points and 10 assists through his first 3 career playoff games. Young joined Kevin Johnson, Chris Paul, Stephen Curry, and Oscar Robertson in that exclusive club.

Unlike Rose, Young had help coming from everywhere.

Bogdan Bogdanovic regained his shooting touch, making half of his 12 attempts for 15 points.

Former Knick Danilo Gallinari had his breakout game in the series with 12 points, all from beyond the arc. Gallinari, Kevin Huerter, and Lou Williams combined for 31 points off the bench.

With Rose and Taj Gibson elevated to the starting lineup, the Knicks’ bench struggled for 28 points. It was the first time Atlanta outscored New York’s bench.

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Knicks: Thibodeau sticks with Payton as starter for Game 2

New York Knicks, Elfrid Payton

Embattled New York Knicks’ point guard Elfrid Payton will keep his starting job for Game 2.

Tom Thibodeu has decided to stay the course and will roll out the same starting unit against Trae Young and the Atlanta Hawks on Wednesday night.

Young toyed around the Knicks’ backcourt in Game 1 scoring a game-high 32 points and handing out 10 assists in an auspicious playoff debut. The Hawks star guard scored the game winning floater with 0.9 seconds left steal one in New York, 107-105.

Payton’s minutes was further reduced as he went scoreless again in eight minutes, missing all his three attempts and was a plus/minus -2. He’s the one of the two Knicks’ guards who had a negative net rating. The other was Frank Ntilikina who played only 31 seconds and as Young’s defender in the final play.

“We looked at the game, we look at what’s going on. It’s a two-point game and it comes down to a loose ball. Just get out there, get the job done, play defense, run the team. We’re going to use everyone,” said Thibodeau before the game explaining his decision to stick with the same starting lineup.

Thibodeau was referring to Bogdan Bognadovic’s three-pointer that tied the game at 103 all with 55 seconds left. RJ Barrett initially swiped the ball but Bogdanovic gathered control as the Knicks’ wingman lost his balance. That shot set up Young’s heroics.

The Knicks have managed to take out Young’s three-point shot (1-of-3 in Game 1). But the cold-blooded guard went 11-for-23 from the floor and was 7-for-12 from close range.

Atlanta Hawks star Trae Young scored 32 points on a variety of floaters including the game winner against the New York Knicks in Game 1.

Thibodeau had a game plan that could have led to a Knicks’ victory in Game 1 as they neutralized Clint Capela’s lob threat. Capela wound up with only nine points on seven shots. Thibodeau’s calculated risk, however, backfired with Julius Randle playing one of his worst games and Bognadovic hitting the crucial 3 off a loose ball. Randle missed 17 of 23 shots for just 15 points, way below his average.  

And it didn’t help the Knicks’ guards were too relaxed on Young giving him enough space to operate inside.

Derrick Rose earlier said they’ll make it tougher for Young in Game 2.

“Well, I can say we played too relaxed. Tonight we’re just going to play our normal way of playing,” Rose said after today’s shootaround ahead of Game 2. Aggressive and playing smart. He’s a smart player. He knows how to use angles. We just got to make sure we stay into the ball and make things harder for him. Last game we didn’t do that.”

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Knicks Vs Hawks: Game 1 score prediction, keys to victory for New York

immanuel quickley, rj barrett, new york knicks

The New York Knicks have their opening contest against Atlanta Hawks at 7 PM on Sunday evening. After the Brooklyn Nets defeated the Boston Celtics on Saturday, the Knicks will have their opportunity to post a victory in game one at home.

After clinching the 4th seed, taking the spot from Atlanta, awarded them the first two games at home, but the Hawks will not be an easy opponent, as they have Trae Young, Bogdan Bogdanovic, and Clint Capela on the roster. I would be remiss not to mention John Collins or DeAndre Hunter.

Luckily, New York has one of the best defenses in the NBA, averaging 104.7 points per game allowed during the regular season, which ranks first place by more than 2.0 points.

Tom Thibodeau will have to be on his A-game, and consistency remains a priority for a Knicks team that has experienced a week off, which could theoretically disrupt their momentum. However, I believe the rest and time to rehabilitate before the postseason presents a major benefit.

Knicks Vs. Hawks score prediction:

Considering how the Knicks closed the season and their success against Atlanta this year, I believe they will emerge victorious in game one at home in front of 15,000 fans at MSG.

It will be a tight game throughout, but the Knicks will pull away by 8-10 points in the remaining moments, successfully closing out the win with fantastic defense and reliance on Derrick Rose at point guard. Rose is one of the only current Knicks to have playoff experience, having played over 40 games during elimination rounds.

I believe the final score will be 111-105, providing the Knicks with a huge game one victory and some essential momentum heading into game two.

Keys to victory for the Knicks:

1.) Elite defense

As aforementioned, the Knicks must play to their strengths, which remains an elite defense that focuses on being aggressive in the paint and closing out perimeter shooters. Of course, limiting Young will be the priority, considering he is averaging 25.3 points and 9.4 assists per game.

Personally, I wouldn’t hate to see Frank Ntilikina on him frequently instead of Elfrid Payton. Thibodeau did mention that Ntilikina will earn more playing time against Atlanta. I imagine for this reason exactly.

2.) Solid 3-PT shooting

The Knicks have really picked up their three-point shooting over the second half of the year, and it was a necessity if they wanted to become a playoff-caliber team. They ended up shooting 39.2%, attempting 29.9 per game. After starting the year poorly, they catapulted themselves into the top three in the league, just behind the Brooklyn Nets and LA Clippers.

They must continue this impressive streak of shooting if they want to beat Atlanta. Ultimately the long ball is an essential factor in today’s NBA.

3.) Consistency

Of course, one of the more important factors remains consistency, especially on defense. The Knicks occasionally give up small spurts of scoring, and they must limit those shifts in momentum if they want to take down Atlanta. With a team containing multiple elite scores, stopping them from stringing together positive drives is a catalyst.

Offensively, I imagine the Knicks might start off slow based on the atmosphere and jitters involved, but they will ease their way into the game and begin to feed off the crowd.

NBA scouts divided on ‘one for the ages’ Knicks-Hawks series

new york knicks, julius randle

Too close to call!

That’s how NBA scouts view the New York Knicks-Atlanta Hawks series that will begin Sunday in a 15,000-packed Madison Square Garden.

The Knicks have swept the Hawks in the regular season but throw that record away from the window, as Tom Thibodeau said.

“It’s going to be really, really an interesting series. Not a lot of playoff experience on either side. I think the offense of Atlanta is probably a little more consistent than the offense of the New York Knicks. They have a lot of offensive weapons. But the grittiness and toughness and the defense of New York maybe can neutralize some of that,” said Michael Vandegarde, a former Philadelphia 76ers scout for 18 years, told Empire Sports Media on a phone call.

Both teams have ended their long playoff drought this season. The Knicks bucked the odds to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2013, capturing the fourth seed in Thibodeau’s first season with the team. The Hawks, on the other hand, had a coaching change midseason that propelled them to the fifth seed in the East after a slow start. Atlanta’s interim coach Nate McMillan had guided the Hawks to a 27-11 record since taking over from Lloyd Pierce, who was fired after a 14-20 start with a spate of injuries in the roster.

“I believe this Knicks vs. Hawks series will be one for the ages,” said Tony Coleman, a freelance NBA scout, in an email.

“Thibs and (Nate) McMillan both are defensive-minded coaches, respectively, at heart and will present unpredictable strategies to throw the other off their game plan. Two tremendously talented teams playing at another level this season — turning around the direction of the organization in New York’s case, and Atlanta trying to make a statement of being a team in the Eastern Conference to reckon with and not to be looked upon as an easy opponent.”

Another active NBA scout said that the key to this first-round matchup would boil down to execution. The Eastern Conference scout, who preferred not to be named, pointed out that this series is a classic matchup between offense and defense.

The Hawks ranked eighth in the Offensive Rating (115.9) and seventh in Net Rating (+4.5) since McMillan took over. On the flip side, the Knicks have transformed into a defensive juggernaut under Thibodeau. They ended the regular season as No.1 in points allowed from 18th last season, No.1 in opponent’s field goal percentage from 17th last season, and first in opponent’s 3-point percentage from 28th last season.

“This is going to be one of the closest series in the first round. The Hawks have solid outside shooters, but the Knicks have the best three-point defense. If every game goes down the wire, New York has more clutch players. They got Derrick Rose, Alec Burks, Julius Randle, and to some extent, RJ Barrett, who’s hit big shots this season. Atlanta has only Trae Young, but he’s new to this playoff environment, and maybe Danilo Gallinari and Lou Williams, but Lou shrunk in big moments against the Denver Nuggets in last year’s playoffs,” said the Eastern Conference scout.

Vandegarde expects a competitive series with both teams grinding out to the “last 8, 6 minutes of the game.”

“Who has a little more composure? Who gets higher-quality shots will play a big role in who will win this series,” Vandegarde said.

The biggest headache for the Knicks in this series is Young, who torched them with 24.7 points and 12.0 assists in their three matchups this season. For Vandegarde, who’s currently consulting for multiple NBA teams, the Memphis Grizzlies-Golden State Warriors play-in game could provide a blueprint for the Knicks on defending Young but with a caveat.

“It will be interesting to see what Thibs does [on Young]. I think it was interesting watching the game last night how Memphis guarded Stephen Curry. [Memphis] threw many double teams at him, and the supporting cast couldn’t make enough plays. Atlanta has a lot more offensive firepower and weapons than the rest of Golden State does,” Vandegarde said.

“I think you could double Trae and get the ball out of his hands, but Atlanta has three-point shooters, slashers, they got offensive rebounders. If you do that, the three-point shooting of Atlanta is a huge concern,” Vandegarde warned.

Coleman, a six-year pro scout who has done live scouting for TPG Sports Group (NBA Summer League) and behind-the-scenes work for a top Eastern Conference team in the past, also shares the same view on defending Young. But he wants the Knicks’ primary defender to be bigger and quicker.

“The best way to guard Trae, in my opinion, is to put a bigger guard on him with a quickness that will be as physical as possible on him. In addition, I would run and jump him with a second defender the minute he crosses the half-court line. In this case, he will have to pass. As a result, the ball is no longer in his hands, minimizing the dribble penetration, kick-outs, and lobs to Capela,” Coleman offered.

Thibodeau revealed earlier this week that he’s been contemplating on using Frank Ntilikina to shadow Young in the series. The embattled Elfrid Payton could remain as the starter, but his token minutes could be further reduced. But to Payton’s credit, he has been effective against Young when he’s the primary defender. Young has only scored two points on 2-of-8 shooting and dished out only two assists against a single turnover in the 14 minutes he was matched up against Payton, according to NBA.com.

Young’s penchant for baiting a foul is also a cause of concern for the Knicks. But Coleman said the Knicks could limit Young’s effectiveness by making him work harder on defense.

“Keep him off the foul line by limiting being in scenarios to foul him. Be relentless about denying him access to the ball while wearing him down over the course of the game with physical play ongoing. Make Atlanta play on one side of the court — not allowing ball reversal to keep Trae at bay, so to speak. Make him play defense. Post him up, make him run off a lot of P/R action to wear him down through physical contact and aggressiveness,” Coleman added.

Meanwhile, a Western Conference scout expects Randle to continue tormenting the Hawks in this series. Randle is averaging 37.3 points, 12.3 rebounds, and 6.7 assists against Atlanta this season. He dropped 40 and 44 points on the Hawks in their last two wins.

While De’Andre Hunter’s return could boost the Hawk’s defense, the NBA scout couldn’t see a single Atlanta player who could match up well with Randle. Even last year with a healthy Hunter, Randle was unstoppable. The Knicks’ main engine had two monster double-doubles (35 points, 18 rebounds, and 33 points, 11 rebounds) in 2020.

“Their only chance is to double him,” the Western Conference scout said. “So it’s going to be important for the Knicks’ outside shooters to be sharp and consistent throughout the series.”

The Knicks are the only team in the league that ranked in the top 10 in 3-point percentage (39.2%, third), but in the bottom 10 in the percentage of their shots that came from 3-point range (34.7%, 24th), according to NBA.com. But they have six players who shot 40 percent from deep.

In many ways, both coaches — Thibodeau and McMillan mirror their teams’ bid in this year’s playoffs. Thibodeau has been demonized for his bitter ending in Minnesota. A playoff success with a young core in New York can absolve that if their surprising regular-season run hasn’t done that yet. Same with McMillan, who is out to put his first-round failures with the Indiana Pacers behind him with this fresh start with the Hawks.

“Thibs is a coach of the Year candidate if he’s not gonna win it. Nate has done a good job after taking it over,” Vandegarde said. And I think that’s everything you could ask for from a coach of the year, but ever since Nate took over, Atlanta has been great as well. I think they’re both extremely quality coaches and quality people.”

The Hawks were expected to make the playoffs with several additions of veteran players to their young core, but it took McMillan to unlock their potential. The Knicks’ turnaround is one of the biggest stories this season.

“I’m not sure if there’s a really big edge from either one guy. I think it’s gonna play out on the players on the court — how the two teams will handle the playoffs atmosphere and intensity. I think that’s the big key. Can Julius (Randle), who has never been to the playoffs, can mimic what he’s done the whole year? Can RJ (Barrett) step up? Can (Trae) Young do it? Can Kevin Huerter do it? Those guys don’t have any playoff experience. Can these guys bring their A-game throughout the series,” Vandegarde said.

Coleman picked the Knicks to win the series owing to their defense. The Western Conference scout also sees the Knicks as a slight favorite.

“Nothing against Nate but Thibs’ brilliance will come out on top in this series,” the Western Conference scout said.

The Eastern Conference scout and Vandegarde, on the other hand, are picking the Hawks because they believe Atlanta is equipped with more firepower.

“I’m excited about the series. I think it can go either way. I don’t think it’ll be a shock in either direction. But if I had to choose, I’d pick the Hawks,” Vandegarde said.

Vandegarde explained that Atlanta has more than enough firepower to overwhelm the Knicks’ defense.

“In the playoffs, it seems to be easier to take one or two players and limit their offensive opportunities. If they can take away Julius (Randle), there’s a lot less on the table for the Knicks offensively,” Vandegarde said.

“Obviously, RJ Barrett has been great, and Derrick Rose has been great. But that’s really the end of the offense. I know they shot it well from 3. But they’re not shooting a ton of 3s. That’s part of their game, but it’s not a major weapon like it is for the Hawks. I just think Bogdan Bogdanovic, (Kevin) Huerter, their three-point ability, John Collins, (Clint) Capela’s offensive rebounding and scoring, bringing Lou Williams and Danilo Gallinari off the bench who have a major experience in the NBA as well as playoff experience and their offensive abilities, I just think in the end that will probably win out,” Vandegarde concluded.

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Knicks usher return to NBA playoffs with 15K sellout crowd

The New York Knicks are back in the NBA playoffs. And so are their fans.

A 15,000 home crowd is expected to rock the Madison Square Garden as the Knicks begin their playoff quest.

Game 1 of their first-round series against the Atlanta Hawks is scheduled on Sunday, with Game 2 on Wednesday. Both games have been sold out, the Knicks announced on Thursday.

The Knicks’ return to the playoffs is being trumpeted as the largest indoor event in New York since the pandemic. It will be the largest Knicks crowd or perhaps the whole NBA this season. Only 1,981 fans or 10 percent of The Garden’s seating capacity have been allowed to watch every Knicks home game since February.

“I hope everyone in sports and entertainment is listening because the public has spoken — they are fine with getting vaccinated and want to get back to the experiences they love,” Dolan said in the statement. “This overwhelming response by Knicks fans — almost 90% of whom are vaccinated — should silence any doubters. It’s time to start booking events and filling up our schedules, so stay tuned. We want to thank Governor Cuomo for this leap forward; he knew we could do this — not just for us, but for New York.”

Knicks president Leon Rose also took his time to thank the fans on a social media post by the team.

It’s the hottest show in town as tickets were sold out in less than an hour during its public release last Wednesday. Season ticket holders and depositors had the first access to the tickets last Tuesday.

The resounding Knicks box-office success drowns their city rival Brooklyn Nets’ struggle to fill the Barclays Center even in a limited capacity. They have yet to sell out both of their home games against the Boston Celtics despite having superstars Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and James Harden. The Nets announced on Thursday that they are offering a 50 percent discount on a number of tickets in their vaccinated section.

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Hawks interim coach fined $25K for ‘asserting NBA’s bias towards Knicks’

Atlanta Hawks interim coach Nate McMillan is in hot water following his controversial comments about the league and the New York Knicks on his zoom call with reporters on Wednesday.

NBA meted McMillan a $25,000 fine on Thursday in what was termed as “detrimental public comments asserting bias by the NBA relating to the 2020-21 Playoffs.”

This stems from McMillan saying the league wants the Knicks to be in the playoffs. The Hawks interim coach has included this message in his pep talk with his team.

“Absolutely, I’ve talked about that to the team a lot. Basically, I’ve gone as far as saying the league wants this,” McMillan said on Wednesday. “They need this, New York, this is a big market for the league, and New York has been out of the playoffs for a number of years.”

The Knicks made the playoffs for the first time in eight years, exceeding expectations by taking the fourth seed in the East. The Hawks wound up fifth despite having a similar record after losing the tie-breaker. The Knicks have swept the Hawks this season.

“And [Knicks] is a team that our league, they want to see — there’s a huge fan base — and they want to see New York in the playoffs. So, yes, we have talked about that, about the advantages of this situation and some things that we’re going to have to face, going into [Game 1], with everyone picking New York to win and a lot of folks wanting to see New York in the playoffs,” McMillan said.

But despite McMillan’s comments insinuating they are the underdogs, the oddsmakers couldn’t decide who’s the favorite to win the series. Both the Hawks and Knicks are given -110 odds or an implied 52.4% chance to win the series.

Meanwhile, 15 of 18 ESPN’s NBA writers and analysts have picked the Knicks.

“It’s a battle, it’s a challenge, just playing New York, all that comes with it. They’ve had a really good season, and I think the NBA is excited about having them back in the playoffs,” McMillan said.

The Knicks will host Game 1 and Game 2 of the series on Sunday and Wednesday with an expected 15,000 home crowd, which the team billed as the largest indoor event since the pandemic.

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Thibodeau addresses Knicks’ Elf-ant in the room; Ntilikina as Trae stopper?

Tom Thibodeau may bury struggling Elfrid Payton on the bench during crucial moments of the game, but he will never throw his beleaguered starting point guard under the bus.

The New York Knicks have reached this far, with Thibodeau sticking to his guns with Payton as a starter. But Payton’s role had been reduced to token starts for the Knicks during the home stretch, with his favorite point guard Derrick Rose taking a larger role off the bench.

“The depth of our team is one of our strengths. There are things that Elfrid provides for us that are big assets to our team — his size, his defense,” Thibodeau said on his zoom call with reporters on Wednesday. Those are important factors. And then you look at it in totality. How does the team function?”

The Knicks have won 16 of their last 20 games despite Payton’s offensive woes. Payton hasn’t breached the 20-minute barrier since April 28. His confidence took a hit with only a total of six points in their final six games. He shot at an atrocious 3-for-19 from the floor during that ugly stretch.

“As is the case with most players, there will be ups and downs. You don’t have to shoot well to play well. Just go out there and give us what you can. And every game is different,” said Thibodeau of Payton.

“The thing that I love about our team is if someone’s not doing good, another guy steps in, and if he’s doing good, everyone is cheering for that guy. The most important thing is the team winning. That’s where I want the focus to lie,” he added.

Thibodeau was able to hide Payton’s deficiencies with Rose closing out games and Alec Burks getting back in the groove.

Rose and Burks will figure heavily in the rotation as Thibodeau will rely on their playoff experience. The veteran backcourt duo has a combined 63 playoff games under their belts.

“The things that you can do well, focus on those things. The things that you don’t do well, you stay away from those things. Play with your strengths and cover your weaknesses and do that as a team. And if you do that as a team, the team will have success and that’s what we’re focused on,” Thibodeau said.

Aside from Rose and Burks, Thibodeau may reach deep in his pocket in his bid to slow down Trae Young, who averaged 24.7 points and 12.0 assists in three games against the Knicks this season. Thibodeau admitted he’s been contemplating a lot about utilizing Frank Ntilikina, who’s been out of the rotation for most of the season.

“Frank has been sort of that role as a defensive stopper. He adds great value to our team,” Thibodeau said.

“What you guys don’t see is — he and Kevin Knox and a bunch of other guys who are not in the rotation — how hard they work in practice. We value practice greatly. They’re providing a lot to our team. And whatever their strengths are, we’re gonna try to take advantage of that. And we want them to continue to improve, and that’s an important part of what we’re doing here. All our players are critical.”

If Ntilikina manages to sneak into the rotation, it will be interesting to see how Thibodeau will spread out the minutes.

Will Payton’s minutes get further reduced, or will Ntilikina cut into rookie Immanuel Quickley’s playing time?

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