Hawks’ Nate McMillan Says NBA Wants to See Knicks in the Playoffs

Mike Chiari@@mikechiariFeatured Columnist IVMay 20, 2021

Atlanta Hawks head coach Nate McMillan in action during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Indiana Pacers, Thursday, May 6, 2021, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)
AP Photo/Darron Cummings

Ahead of the Atlanta Hawks first-round playoff series against the New York Knicks, Hawks head coach Nate McMillan is playing the David vs. Goliath card to some degree.

According to Peter Botte of the New York Post, McMillan said he tried to pump up his team by telling his players that the NBA wants and needs the Knicks in the playoffs because of the massive market they represent:

"Absolutely, I've talked about that to the team a lot. Basically, I've gone as far as saying the league wants this. They need this, New York, this is a big market for the league, and New York has been out of the playoffs for a number of years.

"And this is a team that our league, they want to see—there's a huge fanbase—and they want to see New York in the playoffs."

With a record of 41-31, the Knicks finished fourth in the Eastern Conference and reached the playoffs for the first time since 2014. Meanwhile, the fifth-seeded Hawks also went 41-31 and will look to pull off what might be considered a minor upset if they can eliminate New York in the first round.

McMillan also alluded to the notion that the NBA placed Game 1 of the Hawks vs. Knicks series on Sunday to accommodate the Knicks in some way:

"The league wants to see it, everybody wants to see this. Even to the fact that our [opening] game was moved to Sunday, they want to see this.

"So, yes, we have talked about that, about the advantages of this situation and some things that we're going to have to face, going into [Game 1], with everyone picking New York to win and a lot of folks wanting to see New York in the playoffs. It's a battle, it's a challenge, just playing New York, all that comes with it. … They've had a really good season, and I think the NBA is excited about having them back in the playoffs."

The Knicks have unquestionably been one of the best stories in the NBA this season, as little was expected of them after toiling near the bottom of the Eastern Conference for many years.

Head coach Tom Thibodeau has seemingly changed the culture, though, and players like Julius Randle and RJ Barrett have blossomed under his leadership.

The Knicks are also among the hottest teams in the NBA entering the playoffs, having won three in a row and four of their past five games. They also enjoyed a nine-game winning streak in April.

Lost in all of that is how well the Hawks have been playing. Since the firing of head coach Lloyd Pierce after a 14-20 start, the Hawks have gone 27-11 with McMillan at the helm. They're also riding high entering the postseason with four wins in a row and seven wins in their past eight games.

Rising stars Trae Young and John Collins lead the way for the Hawks, but the team is deep, with significant contributions from youngsters De'Andre Hunter and Kevin Huerter as well as veterans Clint Capela, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Danilo Gallinari and Lou Williams.

McMillan is likely correct in his belief that the NBA would prefer for the Knicks to win the first-round series based on what it could do for television ratings and overall interest, but his Hawks team is undoubtedly talented enough to play spoiler.