Breakdown and Prediction of the Hawks versus Knicks

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In undoubtedly the most surprising first-round matchup of this year’s playoffs, the Hawks and Knicks will lace them up in a battle of the 4th vs. 5th seeds in the Eastern Conference. Both teams finished with the same record (41-31), but the Knicks will have the advantage of home court thanks to their 3-0 record versus the Hawks during the regular season. However, throw all of that out of the window for this one. The playoffs are an entirely different ball game, and both these teams have improved significantly since their early-season matchups.

Key Matchups to Watch

Julius Randle vs. the Hawks defense

Julius Randle will unquestionably be the focal point for Nate McMillan and his team leading up to the series. The leading candidate for the Most Improved Player award looked more like a legitimate MVP when matched up versus the Hawks this season, averaging a ridiculous 37.3 points, 12.3 rebounds, and 6.7 assists on 58.1% shooting from the field and 50% from behind the arc. It’s incredible how much better Randle has gotten over the last couple of years, as he’s become one of the most versatile big men in the game. He’s always been a load to handle in the post, but his improvements as a shooter and passer are what make him nearly impossible to guard.

If the Hawks put a smaller yet more athletic defender like Collins or De’Andre Hunter on him, he can work his way to the rim with ease. But if Atlanta attempts to put Capela on him, he can find his shot from the outside or defer to his teammates around the basket while the Hawks rim protector is on the perimeter. It’s a true pick your poison scenario for Nate McMillan. There is no easy answer; Randle is going to get his. However, if the Hawks can figure out a way to slow him down and prevent him from averaging 30-40 on 60% shooting, they have a real shot at winning this series in 5-6 games. The Knicks simply don’t have the firepower around Randle to keep up with the Hawks if he isn’t playing out of his mind.

Tom Thibodeau vs. Trae Young

Thibodeau has brought defense back to Madison Square Garden, which is the number one reason this team is returning to the playoffs for the first time in eight years, and he’s had an answer for Trae Young. Despite averaging 24.7 points and 12 assists, Young shot 36.2% from the field and 21.4% from the three-point line. If Atlanta’s point guard shoots that poorly in this series, it is difficult to see the Hawks moving to the second round. However, unlike New York, Atlanta has the firepower around Young to pick him up on his worst days.

Nate McMillan vs. first-round opponents

In recent years, much has been made about Nate McMillan’s lack of success in the first round of the playoffs. The former Pacers head coach made the postseason in each of the last four seasons but could never win a playoff series, leading to his dismissal. With that being said, those Indiana teams were constantly overachieving in the regular season, as can be seen by the drop-off they experienced without McMillan on the sideline. This Hawks team very well may be the most talented group he has ever coached. But regardless, that is a monkey McMillan will attempt to get off his back, and it doesn’t help that Travis Schlenk has guaranteed him nothing after this season. If the Hawks flop in the playoffs, it’s likely McMillan is looking for a different job this summer.

Late Season Surges

Both of these squads came into their own as the season waned. Atlanta’s surge really began when Nate McMillan took over as head coach. The Hawks are 27-11 in games coached by McMillan, own the NBA’s second-best record since April 1st, and have become nearly unstoppable to beat on their home floor, winning their last eleven straight at State Farm Arena.

The Knicks were equally as hot to end the season. They won nine in a row from April 9th to April 24th. A loss to Phoenix was the only thing that prevented them from winning 13 straight, and they won their last three games to end the season, giving them home-court advantage in the first round.

Regular Season Results

January 4th, Knicks @ Hawks (113-108)

February 15th, Knicks vs. Hawks (123-112)

April 21st, Knicks vs. Hawks (137-127)


As you can see, two of these matchups came very early in the season when Lloyd Pierce was still coaching the team. Atlanta was also dealing with several significant injuries over at that time. The third game was an absolute thriller, with both teams jostling for playoff position. But the Knicks only regained the edge after Trae Young went down with what looked to be a gruesome ankle injury. Luckily, the Hawks star point guard avoided a severe issue, but he was quickly announced out for the game. When he headed to the locker room, Atlanta led by ten, but New York would soon take advantage by going on a 15-0 run. The Hawks battled back to tie it and send it to overtime, but their lack of offense was evident in the extra period, as the Knicks ran away with the win and season sweep over Atlanta.

Injury Report

The Hawks were hampered by injuries all season, but they finally got healthy at the right time. Outside of Cam Reddish, all of their core pieces should be available for this series.

The Knicks are also fairly healthy, but they are missing a key piece in Mitchel Robinson. They have not ruled him out for the playoffs, but it doesn’t look like he will play in this first-round series. Robinson is averaging 8.3 points and 8.1 rebounds this season and is pivotal to the Knicks defense in the paint.


The Knicks are a well-coached team with arguably the best player on the floor. They shoot the three and play defense as well as anybody, but I’m not sure all of that will carry over to the postseason. Role players tend to shrink in the playoffs, and outside of Randle and Derrick Rose, the Knicks are filled with role players that don’t have any playoff experience. The Hawks also lack experience, but I feel much more confident in Young, Collins, Capela, Bogdanovic, Gallinari, and others showing up on the biggest stage. Unless Randle can put together a Herculean performance over seven games, I don’t see how this one makes it past six.

Hawks in 6


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