When this season started, if you had told me the Knicks were going to clinch the fourth seed and home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs, I would’ve called you crazy. I was not expecting a playoff season, let alone a winning season.
Yet they made it. Despite the odds, the naysayers, and the unbelievers, they made it.
So, despite a 103-89 Game 5 loss against the Atlanta Hawks and a first-round elimination, I’m still proud to be a Knicks fan. To all the Knicks fans out there, I wouldn’t be too distraught either. They made it when nobody said they would and they gave hope to a city in dire need of it.
Julius Randle valiantly led the Knicks with 23 points, adding on 13 rebounds for the double-double. After having some dreadful games so far in this series, he finally broke out a little bit. It was in vain, however, as Trae Young shone yet again with 36 points. Many had said this series would be a duel between these two, so it makes sense that they led their respective teams in the final game of the series. This playoff series win is the Hawks’ first since 2016.
Contested First Quarter
The opening frame of this contest was a perfect example of how these teams are well-matched. It ended 21-21, despite the Hawks starting the game on a 6-0 run. Clint Capela, who recently made comments about how the Knicks play, opened the scoring with an alley-oop dunk. He finished the opening quarter with six points, going 3-3. Interestingly, Young, who has been a problem for the Knicks this whole series, managed just five points. He went a dreadful 2-8, including 0-4 from behind the arc.
For the Knicks, it was Randle who shone. In that opening frame, he scored 10 points–the most on the team. In fact, he was one of only three players to score; the others included Reggie Bullock and Derrick Rose with nine and two points, respectively. Randle was not perfect, however, as he almost got called for a flagrant foul and committed four turnovers. As for Bullock, he showed off his range by going 3-4 from behind the arc. Additionally, nine of the Knicks’ first 13 points were from his three-pointers.
Hawks Pull-Ahead Before Halftime
After finishing the first quarter tied 21-21, the two teams continued to battle before the Hawks managed to gain the lead. Young, who had a mediocre first frame, did marginally better this time with nine points. Most of his points came via free throws, however, as he went 5-5, 2-6 from the field and did not attempt any three-pointers.
It was a much better quarter for RJ Barrett, who was nonexistent in the first. He led his team with seven points, going 2-5 FG, 1-2 3P, and 2-2 FT. Immanuel Quickley came off the bench, scoring just one three-pointer. It briefly gave the Knicks the lead and Barrett hit one of his own right afterward. It was short-lived, however, as the Hawks came storming back. Bullock hit another three-pointer and at halftime, the Knicks led the Hawks in 3P%: 41.2% to 17.6%.
After Randle escaped a flagrant foul in the first quarter, his teammate, Taj Gibson, was called for one in this frame. Furthermore, as the halftime whistle blew, Young missed a shot and fell to the ground. Bullock had a few choice words for him as the two teams started to make their way to their locker rooms. Even though things didn’t immediately escalate, you could tell that there was still animosity with the Hawks up 52-47.
Both Teams Get Chippy, But Atlanta Opens Up the Game
That animosity continued into the third quarter, with two Knicks players and one Hawks player all given technical fouls. Nerlens Noel shouldered Young, who was getting off the court, and then he and Solomon Hill had a brief confrontation. As for Randle, when Young went to the ground on that last shot of the half, Randle took the ball and “threw” it in Young’s direction. It wasn’t a hard pass and he wasn’t trying to harm him either. I can see giving one to both Noel and Hill but Randle too? It seemed a little ridiculous.
Nevertheless, the two teams continued to play and the Hawks used that animosity to fuel their game. After pulling ahead before halftime, they opened the game up in the third frame. In fact, they led 74-58 with a minute left–a 16-point lead(!). During this time, the Knicks managed to score just 15 points. Randle once again led his team in both scoring and turnovers with five and three, respectively. Bullock, who was sniping in the first half, went 0-2 from behind the arc.
They could’ve done a lot more damage, especially since Young was 1-6 with 1-3 from three. However, Randle went just 2-8 and Barrett didn’t attempt a single field goal during his eight minutes of play. Rose, who has been one of the bright spots on the Knicks, had just six points through the first three quarters.
Knicks Can’t Respond, Hawks Cruise to Victory
The Knicks started the final frame on a 6-3 run, led by a nice floater from Obi Toppin. However, the Hawks regained their momentum by going on their own 10-3 run. They were led by Young, who saved his best for last. In the final frame alone he had 18 points, going 5-8 FG, 2-4 3P, and 6-7 FT. He made a point to put a cherry on top, taking a bow to the MSG crowd after one of his three-pointers.
Young helped the Hawks overpower the Knicks, stretching their lead to 19 points at one point. It was their largest lead of the night and one of the final nails in the Knicks’ coffin. Alec Burks came alive in the fourth quarter yet again, scoring 10 points off the bench. Barrett contributed with eight points himself but it was not enough to overcome the Hawks’ already large lead.
End of the Road
Thus ends the Knicks’ 2020-2021 season. They finished in the fourth seed of the Eastern Conference, going 41-31. They met the Atlanta Hawks in the first round of the playoffs but lost the series 4-1 in Game 5. On the other side of the court, the Hawks live to see another day. They move on to the next round of the playoffs and will play the Philadelphia 76ers.
It’s surely a disappointing end to the season, but Knicks fans have plenty to be optimistic about. They beat countless expectations and went farther than most people thought they would. They have talented players and lots of young pieces too. In the matter of a season, they managed to make a name for themselves and cast out old demons. Sure, a series win against the Hawks would’ve been nice, but you can’t have everything.
Chin up, Knicks fans. You have a great team, you just had a great season and basketball culture is back in New York City. If anything, things are just getting started.