WATCH: Knicks fans rain down boos on Trae Young in surprise WWE appearance

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Atlanta Hawks superstar Trae Young made a surprise appearance at the WWE Smackdown event at Madison Square Garden. Clearly, New York Knicks fans are still feeling sour about Young’s performance during the postseason.

Young, who was booed relentlessly during the entire series, earned himself even more negative attention when he walked out of the tunnel at MSG during the Smackdown.

Young was the primary catalyst behind ending the Knicks’ season prematurely, a surprising place the starving franchise found themselves in despite a lack of talent at multiple spots. Having secured the 4th Seed in the Eastern conference, Young turn into a different player as the postseason rolled along, averaging 29.2 points and 9.8 assists per game, embracing the role of the villain. The series was littered with wrongful events, including one fan spitting toward Trae and another creating flyers indicating his hair loss.

However, the Knicks made it a priority to get better this off-season, injecting funds into the point guard position and signing sharpshooter Evan Fournier to help serve at guard and small forward.

With the retention of several players and the addition of quality scores, the Hawks will have a more difficult time taking on the Knicks in the future, but we can be sure of one thing, Young will continue to hear the boo’s from fans at MSG, and rightfully so.

Hilariously, Young was ejected from the SmackDown event after attacking Rey Mysterio. The fans got the last laugh at the end of the day as they watched Young somberly walk backstage and disappear until his next performance against the Knicks commences.

Julius Randle downplays Knicks-Hawks Christmas showdown: It’s just another game

Julius Randle is hyped to play on Christmas Day, but it’s not because he’ll face the Atlanta Hawks, the team that foiled him and his New York Knicks in last season’s NBA playoffs.

For Randle, it means much bigger than who is their opponent.

“Playing in the Christmas game is always an honor. Those are big games that you want to be a part of. Those are definitely the games that the NBA highlights. The fact that you have a Christmas game is a huge honor,” Randle said on The Jump on Wednesday.

It will signal the Knicks’ return to the holiday games after a two-year absence. Randle views it as a recognition of the winning culture they established in New York last season.

With Randle growing into an All-Star and an All-NBA forward, the Knicks finished fourth in the regular season that ushered their return to the playoffs for the first time since 2013. But despite a career season that saw him won the Most Improved Player award, Randle could not elevate his game in the playoffs with the Hawks defense ganging up on him. On the flip side, Trae Young soared higher and emerged as the new Garden villain leading the Hawks all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals.

For the Hawks, this will be their first Christmas game since 1989. They are 9-11 on the holiday games, while the Knicks hold a 22-31 record and the most Christmas games by any team in the NBA.

“Being the fact that it’s Atlanta, you know for me it’s just another game,” Randle said. “You know, it’s all part of the process, of our season on what we want to build and to be where we want to be at the end of the season. Everything is game by game. Obviously, there’s a lot of anticipation and a lot of stuff because of the first round series (last season). But I’m just looking forward to being able to have that experience of playing at Christmas in front of my family and friends. It will be cool.”

For the Knicks fans who have already circled this game on their calendar, it will be a lot cooler to have their revenge game on Christmas Day.

Randle will be playing his fourth Christmas game, but it will be his first under the Knicks. He holds a 1-2 record on the holiday games with the Los Angeles Lakers, the team that originally drafted him. He averaged 13.3 points on 47 percent shooting with 7.3 rebounds, 4.0 assists, and 1.7 steals in those three Christmas games.

Randle is looking forward to another crazy atmosphere in his first Christmas game at the Garden, like the one he experienced during the playoffs.

“Absolutely insane! It goes crazy! That’s intense energy,” Randle said. “I’ve been fortunate enough to be a part of crazy games — national championship in my hometown at Cowboys Stadium, playing in Kobe’s last game — but I’d definitely say the intensity and energy of the Knicks fans at the Madison Square Garden was definitely the most fun experience so far.”

The Knicks-Hawks showdown will open the four-game Christmas Day schedule at 12 noon (ESPN).

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

Walker, Fournier face Celtics in season opener; Knicks-Hawks rematch on Christmas

New York Knicks, RJ Barrett

Newly acquired Kemba Walker and Evan Fournier will start their New York Knicks career facing their old team.

The Knicks will host the Boston Celtics at the Garden on October 20 as part of the NBA’s Opening Week. The game will be televised nationally on ESPN at 7:30 pm ET.

Walker played for two seasons with the Celtics before he was shipped to Oklahoma City Thunder for Al Horford. Walker completed a buyout with the Thunder and joined his hometown team, Knicks, on a $18 million, two-year deal.

Fournier, on the other hand, arrived in New York via a sign-and-trade agreement with the Celtics. He was Celtics’ trade-deadline acquisition who was eyed to be the team’s third scoring option behind Jayson Tatum and Jalen Brown when Walker was shipped out.

But Fournier and the Celtics couldn not agree to a new deal and the Knicks landed him on a $78 million, four-year deal with the last year as team option.

Walker and Fournier are expected to start for the Knicks replacing the ineffective Elfrid Payton, who signed with Phoenix, and 3-and-D forward Reggie Bullock, who went to Dallas.

The Knicks’ rise to relevance have earned them a Christmas playdate against emerging rival Atlanta Hawks.

The Knicks will host the Hawks at the Garden 12 noon to be aired over ESPN.

The Hawks, led by Trae Young, beat the Knicks, 4-1, in the first round of the playoffs last season.

With a retooled starting lineup, the Knicks are hoping to improve on their fourth seed finish and first round exit.

It will be the Knicks’ first Christmas game since 2018 when they lost to Milwaukee Bucks, 109-95. The Knicks are 22-31 on the holiday games.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

LOTTERY-BOUND I 10 lottery teams eye Auburn star I Bruce Pearl to NBA teams: Sharife Cooper is a ‘once-every-10-year’ point guard

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There are two particular big games in Sharife Cooper’s young career that convinced his coaches he’s going to be an elite point guard in the NBA.

In 2019, with McEachern’s perfect season on the line, Cooper led the Indians to a come-from-behind win against his AAU teammate-turned rival BJ Boston and Norcross in the state semifinals.

“I’ll always remember playing against Norcross in the state semifinals during his junior year,” McEachern coach Mike Thompson told Empire Sports Media.

The game was a rematch of the previous year’s quarterfinals, where Norcross knocked off Cooper’s team. It looked like a deja vu was in the offing.

“At halftime, we’re getting beat. He and Isaac (Okoro) were not playing very well. Sharife had not played well in his freshman or sophomore year in the last game that we had. And I wore him out really bad. I got on him as hard as I’ve ever got into a kid at halftime,” Thompson recalled.

Then something happened. Cooper turned on the switch button.

“He looked me in the eye and took everything that I’ve said. He went out and dominated the second half against Norcross and took us to the state championship. And we won the state championship,” Thompson said.

Cooper willed the Indians to an epic 66-62 win. He led the scoring with 26 points while Okoro, his partner-in-crime and the fifth pick in last year’s NBA Draft with the Cleveland Cavaliers, had 18 after the duo combined for only eight in the first half.

“[Sharife] was very coachable and I was always excited for him because I felt like that was the time he took the most pressure-packed moment and he turned into the very best player in that situation. That I will never forget,” Thompson said.

That year, the Indians went undefeated in 32 games for McEachern’s first state title in school history and became the first undefeated team in the highest Georgia classification since 1995. Cooper averaged 27.2 points, 8.1 assists, 5.6 rebounds, and 4.3 steals per game in an MVP season that spilled over several tournaments after that historic run. Prior to his stellar high school career, his AAU team went undefeated during his middle school.

Fast forward to January of this year, Cooper’s much-anticipated college debut after missing Auburn’s first 11 games due to eligibility issues.

“Players of less character and less commitment to the team would have walked away,” Bruce Pearl told Empire Sports Media.

“He came in everything that he was allowed to come to. He was 100 percent supportive of his teammates throughout that process. And I tell you what, that is rare. That fervent leadership with nothing to be gained by him. He was gonna stay ready.  He missed 72 days of practice. And the night before we played Alabama, an early afternoon game, he found out he was eligible and he came out the next day. He scored 23 in the second half in his first game.”

Cooper is a hooper. Without a single practice in the last two-and-a-half months, he was thrown into the fire but still dominated the game. He overcame a jittery start and ended up with a game-high 26 points and nine assists in a narrow 94-90 loss to in-state rival Alabama.

Right at that moment, Pearl saw up close how special Cooper is. He was as good as advertised.

“Sharife is a once-every-ten-year fast-breaking, playmaking, transition, and ball-screen floor general with his ability to make plays for himself and others,” Pearl said.

Cooper supercharged a lethargic Auburn offense. He produced 39.6 points per game via his own scoring or assists, the best in all of the college basketball last season, per Synergy. He tops all guards in the upcoming NBA Draft in points created via assists, per Shot Quality.

In the 12 games that Cooper played, Auburn averaged 83 points while its offense sputtered and coughed up only 72.5 points in 15 games without him. 

 

“He had a pied piper effect. He has the ability to bring other guys along with him which is great for a point guard,” Pearl said.

Ira Bowman, Pearl’s assistant coach and the guy assigned to Cooper during his time in Auburn, marveled at the point guard’s effect on the team.

“[Sharife] is one of those guys who see what the group needs. He is the guy that’s gonna be vocal when he needs to. He’s a leader by example guy but he’s a guy that brings people together. There are guys who are good distributors, good playmakers but he’s the type of guy that makes people around him really, really good,” Bowman told Empire Sports Media in a separate interview.

“Sharife is a unique player. I’ve been in the SEC for five years but I’ve never seen anyone like him. He’s one of the hardest-working kids I’ve been around and he’s a sponge for the game. He has certain God-given gifts that you can’t teach. His ball-handling, his passing, his vision, his leadership are unparalleled.”

The NBA Playoffs saw how Trae Young made Clint Capela a lob threat, how Chris Paul unlocked Deandre Ayton. Cooper had the same effect on every team he’s played with, from AOT in the AAU circuits to McEachern and Auburn.

“If you look at Isaac Okoro, who was the fifth pick in last year’s Draft, he’s a much different player when he was playing with Sharife. You talk about BJ Boston, looking at a lot of these mock drafts they have him in early second round. But when he played with Sharife, he was a Top-5 player in his class. Then there’s Allen Flanigan, Devan Cambridge and so on,” Bowman said.

“That’s just kind of what he does because he’s elite with playmaking, passing with either hand. Because no one can stand in front of him and he can get to wherever he wants to go on the floor. He’s naturally gifted who looks to make a pass first and find easier shots for the other guys. Again, there are people who train their whole life that can’t do those things and he’s naturally gifted,” Bowman said.

The Cooper effect in Auburn was on full display during his brief stint there.

In the 12 games Cooper played, Cambridge had 8 double-figure games. JT Thor, the other Auburn player expected to go in the first round of the NBA Draft, had also hit in double figures in eight games. Flanigan did it in 11 games, including four with at least 19 points.

In the 15 games without Cooper, Cambridge could only hit the double-digit mark in just six games, Thor in eight games, and Flanigan in 10 games.

“I felt like at Auburn, if they had anybody who could knock down shots, he might have averaged 20 assists a game there,” Thompson said.

Cooper will greatly benefit from the floor spacing and better overall talent in the NBA than the young team he had at Auburn.

As much as he’s adept in making plays, he’s also producing buckets in a variety of ways. Those are the two swing skills that intrigued Pearl when Cooper was making waves in Georgia.

“His ability to score and play in traffic. That being undersized, you thought physically you could bounce him around. But he has an uncanny way of delivering passes on time, and on target, and scoring in really crowded places. The other thing is he is ambidextrous. Whatever he could do with his left hand, he could do with his right hand,” Pearl said.

It’s so easy to nitpick his size or the lack of it. But Bowman swears he doesn’t see Cooper regressing in the next level.

Despite being undersized, Cooper has that competitive edge, dog mentality which Bowman attributed to his father Omar, who grew up in the New Jersey-New York area before uprooting his family to Atlanta.

“When you go up against Sharife, the things that you’ll realize is that he’s faster than you think, he’s bigger than you think, he’s stronger than you think. I’ve been around him probably half his life and I haven’t seen him bullied on defense and I’m a thousand (percent) sure it won’t happen in the next level,” Bowman said.

Cooper joined Young as the only freshmen to average 20 points and eight assists in college basketball in the last 30 years. Aside from sharing that record with Young, Cooper also draws comparison to the Hawks’ rising superstar for his propensity for drawing fouls. In 12 games with Auburn, Cooper averaged 8.6 attempts and converted a solid 83 percent.

“I think he’s gonna be a championship-level point guard who’s gonna be a multiple All-Star guard. I’ve been around long enough. I watched Kyrie as a freshman — before he went to St. Patrick’s School, before he became who he was. I watched Chris Paul before what people thought he was. The crazy thing is that Trae Young, having the success that he’s having now, Sharife did what Trae did in the EYBL circuit,” Bowman said.

“There’s no doubt in my mind that the teams that doubted Donovan Mitchell, that doubted Trae Young, they will be the same teams who’ll wish they have [Sharife] because again the things he brings to a team, you can’t teach,” he added.

The last seven NBA champion teams have an elite point guard — Tony Parker (Spurs), Kyrie Irving (Cavaliers), Stephen Curry (Warriors), Kyle Lowry (Raptors), and Rajon Rondo (Lakers). Paul is trying to join that club this season. Young could soon follow.

Each point guard has his own strengths and weaknesses but what stand out is the elite vision, playmaking, and championship poise that propelled their team to greater heights.

Cooper possesses those qualities. If there’s an only blemish on his dominant college run, it was his shaky outside shooting. But his coaches believe that he is a better shooter than what his 23-percent clip from the three-point range suggests.

“I think because he’s so gifted getting into the rim and getting others the ball that his mindset was to make a play and score first, shoot last,” Pearl explained. “That was a function of why he didn’t shoot a great percentage. And of course, he didn’t have a lot of opportunities. I think he’ll really be a good NBA shooter because there will be times when he will be hunting for his shot. He’s so productive breaking his opponent down. That’s his first and second thought.”

Bowman offered another layer of context.

“People say, look at his shooting percentages. But he’s a much better shooter than his shot and the numbers he showed in the sense that he played the season after sitting out for 72 days of practice and never really got his legs. All the stuff that he does, he’s a leader. I’ve been in this [coaching] for a while and never coached a kid that can do everything on the floor. And obviously, he’s gonna will his way to be a great player. He will never be satisfied with being great,” Bowman said.

“As far as working on his game, he’s shooting thousands of shots a day. The percentages don’t show where he is but he’s always been a good shooter. He’s gonna be a great shooter with a year of training camp because like I said, he jumped right in the middle of the season and didn’t have his legs and played catchup for the rest of the year. Because he’s so gifted in doing the other things and nobody can stand in front of him, it’s just one of those things where he got settled with some of those shots. So, I’m not concerned at all.”

Thompson, meanwhile, pointed to Cooper’s shooting display in his Pro Day at the Draft Combine in Chicago to prove that it was just an outlier.

“He shot it really well during his junior year and I think he really did a work on that heading into the Draft Combine and his Pro Day. And he showed in his Pro Day that he can really shoot well. As a matter of fact, he got a standing ovation from a lot of executives,” Thompson said.

In the EYBL circuit during his junior year, Cooper shot 35 percent on 5.7 attempted 3s in 10 games, per Real GM. There were no available statistics that show his shooting percentages during his undefeated run with McEachern. But his solid free-throw shooting clip in college provides hope that Cooper’s struggle from long-distance at Auburn is just an aberration.

More than 20 NBA teams have reached out to Pearl and spoke with him at great length about Cooper. All of them had the same question: “At his size, what do you think? Is he gonna make it as a star in the NBA?”

“That question has always been asked. It’s been asked in his high school career and he was the national player of the year and went undefeated during his junior season. It was asked in college and he averaged 20 points and almost 10 assists. And so, it’s gonna be asked at the next level but Sharife has always proven everybody wrong. That’s for a fact,” Pearl said.

How will he do that? By just staying true to himself.

Bowman gave us a peek at what made Cooper successful in every level he’s been to, which will translate well in the NBA.

“I’ve been watching him since the seventh grade. You see young kids that make mistakes and just shrug it off but he’s somebody who was obsessed with not turning it over, obsessed with making the right plays. I’ve seen him do things that didn’t work and come back and make adjustments. He does it on the fly. You rarely see him make the same mistakes twice. Those are things you can’t teach. That’s the basketball junkie that he is. He’s obsessed with being great. That’s what’s gonna happen,” Bowman said.

During his one-and-done season at Auburn, Bowman and Cooper were almost inseparable.

“He’s somebody that made me stay in shape with the amount of time that he was in the gym,” Bowman said in jest. “It’s just like having another whole job. Being able to make sure he’s getting satisfied with his basketball skill work. It was refreshing in the sense that it’s a throwback. He’s not somebody that sits around and hopes things happen. He’s gonna figure out what to do and how to make it happen.”

Cooper starts his day with what he called a ‘Breakfast Club’ at 6’o clock in the morning with basketball on his plate. After an early morning shootaround, he eats his real breakfast and attends his class. After lunch, he hits the weight room before going to practice. Then after practice, he does extra shooting before retreating to the film room. After dinner, he comes back for more extra work until 11 at night.

“He’s a gym rat,” Bowman said. “Night, morning, he’s always in the gym. He’ll do everything that we, coaches, asked our players to do and he’s gonna do more. He’s not gonna get outworked. The first guy in the gym, the cliché, last to leave but he’s also coming back. His work ethic is unparalleled. His mindset was already a pro.”

Any team in the NBA would love to have that type of player. He blew away a lot of teams during his Pro Day workout.

Auburn’s Sharife Cooper is touted to be the next elite point guard to make the NBA jump. (Getty Images/Walt Beazley/Arkansas Athletics/USA Today Sports)

Young went No. 5 in his class, Paul went No. 4. So his coaches believe that Cooper, who had done stuff that Young did in high school and college and has the court smarts of Paul that elevates his teammates, is lottery-bound.

Overall, 10 of 12 the teams in the lottery have either met or scheduled to meet with Cooper: Houston Rockets (No. 2, 23, 24) Cleveland Cavaliers (No. 3), Toronto Raptors (No. 4), Orlando Magic (No. 5, 8), Oklahoma City Thunder (No. 6, 16, 18), Golden State Warriors (No. 7, 14), Sacramento Kings (No. 9), New Orleans Pelicans (No. 10), Charlotte Hornets (No. 11) and Indiana Pacers (No.13).

The other teams from the outside (of the lottery) looking in who are confirmed to have either met Cooper or worked him out are the Washington Wizards, Chicago Bulls, Boston Celtics, Philadelphia 76ers, Portland Trail Blazers, Los Angeles Clippers, Milwaukee Bucks, Minnesota Timberwolves, and the Hawks.

According to a source, that list is expected to grow to 25 teams before the NBA Draft on July 29.

“Everything (mock draft) I read has him going to New York. I think that’d be a great fit. They need a point guard. I think he’d be great in that city. That city would embrace him,” Thompson weighed in.

“He’s spent a lot of times in New Jersey. That’s where his family is originally from. He knows [the Knicks] really well. I think his mind — his psyche – that’s one of the strongest suits he has. I think he’ll just be fine there. He’s an entertainer and he will be a perfect fit in New York,” he added.

Curiously, the Knicks haven’t met Cooper yet. However, ESPN’s Draft Analyst Jonathan Givony noted on ESPN’s latest NBA Mock Draft after the Combine that “the Knicks’ front-office brass and head coach Tom Thibodeau were front and center in Chicago for Cooper’s pro day, where he had a strong showing.”

Pearl also highlighted Cooper’s New Jersey roots.

“Here’s the thing, he identifies with New Jersey. That’s where he’s born. That’s where his dad played ball. Even if he played high school ball in Atlanta, he knows his roots. He knows where he’s from. He’s just a loyal kid that is grateful for the opportunity,” he said.

But both the New York teams are outside the lottery. According to a source, the Knicks have a level of interest after doing their due diligence on Cooper. With Cooper already on the radar of eight lottery teams, both the Knicks and the Nets might have to trade up if they really want the star point guard out of Auburn.

Bowman believes Cooper is the best pure point guard of this class, and he’s a plug-and-play guy right away, noting the impact of Trae Young and Chris Paul in this NBA playoffs.

“At this point, you don’t know who has the most interest. Everybody is doing their due diligence. I will just say that there’s a group of teams that needs a point guard,” Bowman said. “That they would be more successful if they have a guy like Sharife and I’m not saying who I like or who I don’t like. But I’m gonna say, whoever gets him will be lucky.”

“But you look at the Knicks and what Trae Young did to them, and the Sixers on what Trae Young did to them, and you look at the Lakers on what Chris Paul did to them. So you talk about the Lakers, Clippers, the Rockets who are rebuilding who don’t have a point guard. There are tons of teams who can plug him in and help immediately. But obviously, being from the Northeast, we talk about, you see the Knicks and the Sixers how they played.”

“Any team that sees the value in a true leader and a guy who’s gonna make people around him better, I think anybody would be lucky to have him. But I like Golden State. I don’t think Steph Curry is a point guard in a grand sense of things because he’s coming off so many screens and can do a lot with the ball if he had somebody who can set him and Klay Thompson up coming off the screen. I just see [Sharife] getting successful at about every stop,” he explained.

Pearl views Cooper in the same mold as the top point guards in today’s NBA. And he hopes whichever team that picks his former star player will trust him the way he did, akin to how Monty Williams trusts Paul that propelled the Suns two wins away from an NBA championship.

“Obviously, [Sharife should go to] a team that truly wants a point guard. In this day of positionless basketball, sometimes coaches have different people bringing up the ball on the floor. It’s got to be a coach who wants to put the ball in Sharife Cooper’s hands and let him run the team,” Pearl said.

“Lead point guards are not for every system, not for every coach. And I think that’s where the question – does Chris Paul, Trae Young, Kyrie Irving, Damian Lillard, their ability to run a team and break people down and get everybody involved interests you? – if that’s a fit for that head coach, then great. But if he’s a coach who doesn’t care who leads the break and brings the ball up the floor, then Sharife wouldn’t be attractive to them. I couldn’t do anything more productive offensively than putting the ball on the hands of Sharife. Give him space, and let him make plays.”

His coaches can’t wait to watch Cooper’s next big game, this time in the NBA, to let his next coach and the fans see for themselves what they saw in him throughout these years.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

Trae Young’s dad throws shade at New York Knicks fans

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The New York Knicks were embarrassed by the Atlanta Hawks over five games in their first postseason appearance since 2012. Despite the Knicks having an admirable regular season, led by head coach Tom Thibodeau and All-Star Julius Randle, they simply didn’t have enough star talent to push them forward when it mattered most.

Despite the fans’ best efforts, they were unable to discourage the Hawks, even sending out a few profanity-ridden chants toward Trae Young.

However, there were a few instances throughout the series that were uncalled for, specifically a fan spitting toward Young in an outrageous expression of misguided emotion.

Young’s dad, Ray, came to his defense, taking a fair share of shots at New York Knicks fans in the process for their lack of respect.

“I’m seeing a lot of dry hating on the app right now,” Ray Young wrote Friday night from his personal Twitter account, targeting Knicks fans specifically. “Doesn’t get any worse than that. Wishing for another teams downfall because your team got embarrassed. Y’all take them 4 L’s and focus on next year. Quit cheerleadin.”

Ray has a point, as the Knicks fans didn’t treat Young and the Hawks particularly well, but his son did a fair share of gloating during and after games. Some of the chants were undoubtedly over the top, but Trae didn’t seem phased, stating after the series that he enjoyed the atmosphere, despite the physical altercation that caused a fan to be banned permanently from The Garden.

“I didn’t feel it. I saw the video and it’s disgusting,” Trae Young said. “For me as a player, I come out here to do my job and play. I had no problem with the fans and what they’ve been saying, things like that. It’s a part of it. It’s basketball and I enjoy it, I love it. I’m not mad at the fans who chant things or whatever. That’s for another subject. But for spitting and things like that, that’s uncalled for in any arena, any environment.

Especially during Covid, spitting toward a player from your luxurious courtside seats is not tolerable. The fan is not a representation of the Knicks fan base as a whole, and while Ray’s comments are justified in that respect, generalizing the entire fan-base is a bit outlandish.

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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Indefinite ban meted on Knicks fan for spitting on Hawks’ star Trae Young

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A New York Knicks fan has been banned indefinitely from watching at the Madison Square Garden after he was caught on TV spitting on Atlanta Hawks’ star Trae Young.

The Knicks apologized to Young and the Hawks organization for the unfortunate incident that transpired with 8:34 left in Game 2 on Wednesday night.

“We investigated the matter and determined that this patron, who is not a season ticket holder, did indeed spit on Trae Young, and for that reason, he is now banned from The Garden indefinitely. We apologize to Trae and the entire Atlanta Hawks organization for this fan’s behavior. This was completely unacceptable and will not be tolerated in our venue. We have turned the information over to the appropriate authorities,” the team said in a statement released on Thursday.

Young’s father went to Twitter to call the attention of the league and the Knicks on the incident.

It was the second incident on Wednesday night involving a fan attacking a player. A Philadelphia 76ers fan was also banned indefinitely for throwing popcorn on Russell Westbrook while he was on his way to the locker room.

The NBA immediately released a statement on Thursday to address the two separate incidents.

“The return of more NBA fans to our arenas has brought great excitement and energy to the start of the playoffs, but it is critical that we all show respect for players, officials, and our fellow fans. An enhanced fan code of conduct will be vigorously enforced in order to ensure a safe and respectful environment for all involved,” the league said in a statement.

The NBA Fan Code of Conduct is as follows:

  • Players and fans respect and appreciate each other.
  • Guests will be treated in a professional and courteous manner by all arena and team personnel.
  • Guests will enjoy the basketball experience free from disruptive behavior, including foul or abusive language and obscene gestures.
  • Guests will consume alcoholic beverages in a responsible manner. Intervention with an impaired, intoxicated, or underage guest will be handled in a prompt and safe manner.
  • Guests will sit only in their ticketed seats and show their tickets when requested.
  • Guests who engage in fighting, throwing objects, or attempting to enter the court will be immediately ejected from the arena.
  • Guests will smoke in designated smoking areas only.
  • Obscene or indecent messages on signs or clothing will not be permitted.
  • Guests will comply with requests from arena staff regarding arena operations and emergency response procedures.
  • Guests will comply with all COVID-19 health and safety protocols.
  • List of prohibited items at NBA arenas can be found here.

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Garden of Eden: Randle, MSG roar back to life as Knicks tie series

A quiet place no more.

The Garden became Eden once again on a magical Wednesday night as the New York Knicks climbed from a 13-point halftime hole for their first playoff win in eight years.

The Knicks tied the series after a riveting second-half comeback to pull out a 101-92 win before their adoring fans.

From celebrities to LeBron James, millions were glued on this game as the Madison Square Garden rocked until the buzzer.

 

This time, the Knicks made sure there will be no Trae Young game-winner to quiet the crowd.

Derrick Rose, playing with 32-year old legs, turned back the clock in a throwback showdown against the Hawks’ 22-year old star that kept the Knicks in the game.

Then everything clicked once Julius Randle found his mojo back in the second half.

Randle recovered from a 0-6 start and poured in 13 of his 15 points in the final two quarters to rally the Knicks.

Reggie Bullock also regained his shooting form and locked up Young in the fourth quarter.

Young had a second consecutive 30-point game in The Garden, but he was limited to 1-of-3 shooting in the final quarter.

After a soaring first half where they led by as many as 15 points, the Hawks were grounded in the second half.

New York roared to life in the third quarter with a 17-5 run that tied the game at 72 all. The Knicks grabbed their first lead since the first quarter on a Randle fallaway jumper with 1:45 left. They never let go of that lead.

With Randle struggling in the first half, Obi Toppin electrified the crowd with quality minutes off the bench.

Toppin reprised his role at the start of the fourth quarter. The Garden turned into bedlam when Toppin rose for an alley-oop dunk that extended the Knicks’ lead to six, 81-75, with 10:55 to play. His mother, Roni Toppin, turned emotional as the crowd chanted his son’s name.

The Knicks erected their largest lead, 88-78, at the 8:34 mark. But the Hawks charged back with a 9-0 run to close the gap.

Bullock gave New York a four-point breather, 91-87. Atlanta refused to give up and tied the game at 91 all. The Knicks’ defense shut the Hawks down in the final 5:06, limiting them to just one free throw.

Rose summoned his MVP form 10 years ago as he pumped in 26 points on daredevil drives, short jumpers, and three-point bombs in a season-high 39 minutes. He added four rebounds and four assists.

Tom Thibodeau went to Rose to start the second half, signifying that he’s had enough of Elfrid Payton’s lackadaisical play. Payton only saw five minutes in the first half and never returned. He was a plus/minus -7. Taj Gibson also stepped up as Nerlens Noel couldn’t keep up with Clint Capela. Noel (2 points, five rebounds in 16 minutes) had the worst net rating among all Knicks players with plus/minus -14.

Gibson, Thibodeau’s most trusted veteran big man, played 30 minutes and delivered more than his stat line — six points, seven rebounds, one assist, three steals, and one block — screamed.

But the story of the game was Randle, who couldn’t shake off the playoffs jitter and the Hawks’ double-teaming schemes in the first six quarters of the series.

A rhythm 3 to start the third quarter was all he needed to loosen up. Randle went 5-for-10 in the second half.

“Obviously, we were disappointed with the way we played in the first half, but I knew in the second half there’d be a great fight, and there was,” Thibodeau said.

“And I think Julius hitting that shot, Julius is not going to go away. He’s going to keep coming. He’s got a great will, great determination, and he’s a fighter.

Randle matched his 15-point output in Game 1, but he returned to his old self — the first-time All-Star and the league’s Most Improved Player. His inspiring turnaround in the second half rubbed off on the team.

Bullock, who didn’t hit a single 3 in Game 1, went 4-of-7 this time and put up 15 points.

The Knicks bench came up big again with 55 points. Alec Burks added 11 points and eight rebounds, while Toppin had eight and three boards.

New York limited Atlanta to just 35 points on a 28 percent clip in the second half. In contrast, the Knicks shot 48 percent (22-of-46) in the last two quarters.

The series moves to Atlanta on Friday with a throng of Knicks fans expected to fly.

The “F*ck You Trae” chants in Game 1 was replaced by “Trae is balding” that didn’t deter the Hawks star in the opening half. Young almost scored at will with 20 points on 7-of-12 shooting, including four treys.

But once Randle and the Knicks regained the menacing form that catapulted them to the fourth seed, Young could no longer shush the crowd. Instead, the Knicks silenced him. And The Garden roared back to life.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo