In the most critical game in a while, the Hawks show once again they’ve taken the next step

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Wednesday night’s game against the red-hot Knicks — winners of seven straight — was undoubtedly the most critical game for the Hawks franchise in years. There were playoff implications everywhere. Not only did the Hawks sit just a half-game in front of the scrappy Knicks in the standings, but they also entered the contest just 1.5 games ahead of the Heat, who are currently in the play-in tournament, and they even had an outside shot at catching the Bucks for the 3rd seed, trailing them by just 3.5 games.

Well, that last part is nothing but a pipe dream now because the Hawks not only heartbreakingly lost to the Knicks, but they may have also lost their star point guard for some time in the process.

The game started as well as the Hawks could have hoped — at least from an offensive perspective. Trae Young had 16 points and 5 assists in the first quarter, leading Atlanta to a five-point lead. Both teams shot close to 60% from the field, which isn’t all that surprising in a game featuring two opponents playing on the second night of a back-to-back. Atlanta had seven steals in the first quarter and continued to force the Knicks to turn the ball over in the second, leading to a boatload of transition points, but they failed to pull away because of their egregious three-point defense. The Knicks shot 9-13 from behind the arc in the first half, which was a story that would linger all night.

The third quarter is where everything changed — in the game and potentially the Hawks season. Atlanta looked to be pulling away, stretching their lead to eleven late in the period, but a Trae Young injury with just over a minute to play in the third would flip the script. He would go down in what looked to be agonizing pain, clutching his ankle. The Hawks later announced him out for the game with a sprained ankle.

Atlanta would keep New York at arm’s length for a few minutes of the final quarter, but eventually, the Knicks stifling defense took over, and they went on a 15-0 run. Amidst that run, there was another chilling moment when Clint Capela fell awkwardly on his lower back area. After several minutes on the ground, though, he stayed in the game and never exited. That’s fantastic news because while Trae Young is the headline superstar, Clint Capela has been the best player on the Hawks for quite some time now. He delivered again tonight with a monstrous performance, recording 25 points and 22 rebounds.

With all that craziness and on the second night of a road back-to-back, it would have been understandable for the Hawks to lay down, but they never did. Nate McMillan was able to keep his troops poised, and they battled back multiple times in the final minutes to give themselves a chance to tie with eight seconds to go. And what do you know? McMillan may have been responsible for the game’s best play, drawing up an absolute beauty in the corner for Bogdan Bogdanovic, who nailed it, sending the game to overtime.

Unfortunately, the Hawks seemed to run out of gas in the extra period. The Knicks scored the first ten points, and it was pretty much over after that, resulting in undoubtedly the most brutal loss the Hawks have faced in quite some time for a variety of reasons. Hopefully, Young’s injury is nothing serious; however, this team deserves so much credit for the growth they have shown under McMillan. And God forbid, if they can ever get healthy, the Eastern Conference could be in some trouble.

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