You couldn’t have drawn up a better way for the Hawks to make their return to playoff basketball — the first time since 2017. A back-and-forth battle between two teams, who had little playoff exposure, ended thrillingly with a Tae Young floater that gave Atlanta a two-point lead with under a second to go, silencing an absolutely raucous Madison Square Garden crowd. It was the first of many signature moments for the new face of the Hawks franchise, but it will only be remembered if Atlanta can take care of business the rest of the way. That starts on Wednesday in Game 2 against the Knicks.
The major storyline coming into this one has to revolve around Julius Randle. The Most Improved Player award winner dominated the Hawks during the regular season, but Nate McMillan seemed to have the answers for him in Game 1. Randle shot just 6/23 from the field, scoring 15 points to go along with 12 rebounds, but the rest of the Knicks starters shouldn’t be off the hook either. They combined for a measly 26 points, and if it weren’t for a tremendous performance by the Knicks bench, this one probably would have been over by halftime.
Alec Burks, who has had a fantastic year for New York, finished with 27, and Derrick Rose added 17. As a whole, the Knicks bench outscored the Hawks bench 64-31. I wouldn’t expect that to happen again, given how strong Atlanta’s second-unit is, but Randle and the rest of New York’s starters should perform much more admirably.
The other All-Star (even though he was snubbed this year) in this series didn’t have the same problems as his counterpart in his first playoff game. Trae Young finished with 32 points, 10 dimes (only two turnovers), and 7 rebounds. If he can repeat that performance, you have to like Atlanta’s chances to go back home up 2-0 in the series — no matter how much better Randle plays. Surely, the Knicks will choose a different strategy to attack Young defensively, and whatever they decide will undoubtedly be a hot topic after the game.
Aside from the individual matchups on the court, we’ll find out a lot about the mindset of both of these teams. The Knicks should come out with their backs against the wall, while the Hawks should put their Game 1 win behind them and focus on playing their best game of the season. That’s what it will take to win Game 2. It would be typical for a young, inexperienced team to take their foot off the gas in this situation. If Atlanta can avoid doing that and go home 2-0, perhaps they are much better suited to make a deep playoff run than we ever imagined.
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