Trae Young once again stuck to the Knicks and their fans masterfully.
The 2021 playoff villain and his Hawks essentially ended the Knicks’ season for a second straight spring, silencing the booed Garden crowd with 45 points and eight assists in a 117-111 win Tuesday night to push the Knicks ever closer to mathematical elimination.
RJ Barrett couldn’t fully match Young in the injury-free absence of leading scorer Julius Randle, finishing with 30 points and 13 rebounds for the Knicks, who now trail No. 10 Atlanta by six games for the last playing spot. in the Eastern Conference with just 10 to play.
“We have to keep fighting. You are not eliminated until you are eliminated. Crazy things happen in sports,” Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said before the game. “Just win the next game. That’s all we think about.
With Randle sidelined with a daily quadriceps injury, those clamoring to see 2020 lottery pick Obi Toppin get more minutes have gotten their wish for at least one game. Toppin had several dunks and finished with 10 points in 24 minutes in his third start of the season.
Alec Burks also contributed 21 points and Immanuel Quickley had 17 for the Knicks, who fell 30-42 to clinch a losing record after last year’s 41-31 resurgence. Bogdan Bogdanovic backed Young by scoring 32 for the Hawks (36-36)
Of course, Young led his team to a five-game ouster from the Knicks in the first round of the playoffs last spring. The Knicks had actually won their last seven regular season games against Atlanta, marking the longest regular season streak for either team in that game since the Knicks also won seven in a row at Atlanta. from 2003 to 2005.
Young, who heard profane chants directed at him in all three playoff games at the Garden last year, did not play in the Christmas Day contest in New York this season due to COVID-19. The Knicks won that game via a triple-double by guard from stoppage Kemba Walker, and they also won two games in Atlanta on Nov. 27 and Jan. 15.
“The important thing for us is to play winning basketball. We have great fans. We have to make sure that we do the right things to win the game. So don’t get carried away by emotions, things like that”, said Thibodeau. “Play well. Doing the things we need to do to win and that’s where I want the focus to be. We know they are a very talented team.
“So all the hype is what makes the game special here. I think most players in the league like to come and play here. It’s the best arena in the league, in the world. And the fans are great, so you’re going to do your best. We have to make sure that we give the best of ourselves. »
With Randle sidelined, the offense mostly went through Barrett in the first half, and he recorded 17 points and three assists – all lob passes for dunks to Toppin or Mitchell Robinson.
The Knicks held a 12-point lead halfway through the second. But Young finished the half with 24 – including four 3-pointers – as the Hawks led 64-58 at intermission.
Triples from Young and Kevin Huerter early in the third pushed Atlanta’s lead to 11, but the Knicks ripped out a 23-10 run – culminated by a Jericho Sims dunk and a Burks pullover – to take a lead of 85-83 with less than a minute left in the third and a two-point advantage in the final quarter.
With Young sitting to start the fourth, the Knicks extended their advantage to 10 from 3 by Quickley and rookie Miles McBride. But Bogdanovic scored eight points in a 13-4 Atlanta surge to cut the deficit to one and Young connected from long range for a 105-105 game with just under three minutes left.
The next 3 points from Bogdanovic and De’Andre Hunter and two more buckets from Young broke the tie and put the Knicks by six with 1:04 to go.