The NBA has fined Atlanta Hawks interim coach Nate McMillan $25,000 for “detrimental public comments asserting bias by the NBA relating to the 2020-21 playoffs” after McMillan told reporters the NBA "wants" and "needs" the New York Knicks in the playoffs.
Atlanta is scheduled to face the Knicks in the first round of the postseason beginning Sunday night on TNT.
Ahead of that matchup, McMillan attempted to fire up his team by imparting an underdog mentality.
"I've gone as far as saying the league wants this," McMillan said. "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."
It's not unusual for coaches, or players, to impart a David vs. Goliath mindset within the locker room. It's even less unusual for that to be the case when playing against a storied team from one of the league's biggest markets, like New York.
Yet this isn't a typical Knicks powerhouse facing off against the Hawks.
New York provided the Eastern Conference with its most surprising storyline as the first year of the Tom Thibodeau era produced a 41-31 finish and locked up the No. 4 seed for the rebuilding club.
The Hawks finished as the No. 5 seed after going 41-31 as well, but the Knicks held a tiebreaker over Atlanta after sweeping the Hawks over three games in the regular season.
That should be more than enough inspiration to fire up Atlanta for the first-round series, but McMillan went further, framing the situation as "Hawks vs. the NBA." The league felt that crossed a line.
It may end up reinforcing McMillan's point. At this time of year, every potential slight against a club is used as fuel. It's hard to imagine the Hawks won't treat their coach's fine the same way.