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.
Clint Capela: “We can push guys around too and we can talk shit as well and get a win with it, so what are you going to do about it? … “
“We’ll send you on vacation.” pic.twitter.com/xjLmjod2Aj
— Kevin Chouinard (@KLChouinard) June 1, 2021
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.
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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