Everything has gone wrong for the New York Knicks in their first playoff series since 2013. While there are few positives from the first four games of the series vs. Atlanta, there’s still hope for New York to claw back into this series. Here’s what the Knicks must do to force a game 7 against the Hawks.
Frank Ntilikina Needs Minutes
Before this series began, Tom Thibodeau admitted Frank Ntilikina may get allowed minutes to keep Trae Young quiet. In the first game vs Atlanta, Ntilikina struggled on the final possession against the young Hawk and conceded the game-winner. Since this game over a week ago, the Frenchman hasn’t seen minutes.
Trae Young has flourished vs the Knicks thus far. The 22-year-old has averaged 27.5 points and 10 assists. While brilliant offensively, Derrick Rose hasn’t managed to slow him down and neither has Reggie Bullock who has also been put to the task. Ntilikina, while often passive on offense, is a strong defender and should be given an opportunity to shut down Young. Nothing else has worked for the Knicks and it’s time to bring out the young guard.
Julius Randle Must Play Smarter
Julius Randle came into the playoffs as the NBA’s Most Improved Player and a menace to all opposing teams. After four games in, he’s proved that playing in the playoffs for the first time can be nerve-wracking for All-Stars as well. Randle has been shooting very poorly and doesn’t look like the same player he was during the regular season. Atlanta has double-teamed the Knicks star and has kept him very quiet thus far. Randle needs to start giving his teammates good looks when he can’t get himself going. When Julius Randle plays well, the Knicks play well and his performance is indicative of these uninspiring Knicks in the playoffs.
While Randle has been shooting poorly, fans have also seen him struggle on the defensive end as well. He isn’t playing aggressively or showing the intensity needed on defense to win games. It’s not a good sign to see your star player being lazy defensively and the 26-year-old power forward needs to wake up quickly if he wants to continue this series past Wednesday.
Get Noel Back into the Starting Lineup
Nerlens Noel has faced ankle injuries throughout the Knicks vs Hawks series. He hasn’t been able to play as many minutes as was expected before the playoffs began however he’s still in good enough shape to play. While he shouldn’t be receiving more minutes, he should be put back into the lineup to restore the natural order of things.
There’s a lack of height under the rim when Taj Gibson is starting and Clint Capela has been able to capitalize on this. Noel can keep the ball out of the paint much more than the 35-year-old veteran.
With Noel playing mainly with the second unit, Obi Toppin seems to struggle to find his role on the floor. Throughout the regular season, Obi Toppin has been under the rim to catch alley-oops from teammates but with Noel on the court occupying a similar role on offense, the second unit can’t succeed as much. What’s worked for the Knicks during the season has worked for a reason and should no longer be tampered with.
The Knicks play a win-or-go-home game tomorrow against the Hawks at 7:30 PM EST. If New York manages to secure a win, they can use momentum to force game 7 back at the Garden.