Playing in their first Christmas Day game since 2018, the New York Knicks gave the Madison Square Garden crowd plenty to cheer for with a 101-87 win over the Atlanta Hawks.
The Knicks entered this game having lost nine of their past 12 games to fall four games under .500.
Atlanta was once again playing short-handed with nine players unavailable because of health and safety protocols. Clint Capela did make his return after missing the previous two games.
The Knicks took control early with a 23-8 lead midway through the first quarter. The Hawks didn't go quietly, but ultimately they were unable to make up the difference and suffered their eighth loss in the past 12 games.
Each of New York's five starters was at least plus-12 in the win. Julius Randle and Evan Fournier led the way at plus-21. The duo combined for 40 points and 17 rebounds.
Kemba Walker posted the third triple-double of his career. The 31-year-old didn't have an efficient scoring game, shooting just 3-of-12 from the field, but he made up for it with 12 assists and 10 rebounds.
On a day when very little was going right for the Hawks, Delon Wright and John Collins at least put forth a good effort. They each scored 20 points in the loss. Cam Reddish was the only other Atlanta starter to finish with at least 10 points.
Notable Game Stats
- Julius Randle (NYK): 25 points (9-of-15 FG), 12 rebounds, 3 assists
- Evan Fournier (NYK): 15 points (6-of-12 FG), 5 rebounds, 3 assists
- Kemba Walker (NYK): 10 points (3-of-12 FG), 12 assists, 10 rebounds
- Delon Wright (ATL): 20 points (8-of-13 FG), 4 rebounds, 3 steals
- John Collins (ATL): 20 points (7-of-18 FG), 8 rebounds
- Cam Reddish (ATL): 10 points (4-of-15 FG), 6 rebounds
Randle, Fournier Shine in Knicks' Win
Even with the caveat that this version of the Hawks isn't close to the squad they would normally be, Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau has reasons to be optimistic about what he saw from his team in Saturday's win.
Randle has had an inconsistent season coming off his All-Star appearance in 2020-21.
One of the biggest negative swings for the 27-year-old has been his three-point shooting, which has fallen nearly 10 full points from 41.1 percent last season to 32.0 percent this season entering Saturday.
Randle had one of his best shooting days of the season against the Hawks. He went 9-of-15 overall from the field and made six of his nine three-point attempts.
NEW YORK KNICKS @nyknicks
Five, count 'em, five threes for <a href="https://twitter.com/J30_RANDLE?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@J30_Randle</a> on the day.<br><br>RT to vote for <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/NBAAllStar?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#NBAAllStar</a>. <a href="https://t.co/rvE2wWQVnf">pic.twitter.com/rvE2wWQVnf</a>
The Knicks aren't a team that has a go-to superstar, like the Hawks when Trae Young is available. They need balance from their entire roster to win, but Randle is going to be the player they turn to for a bucket when they need it.
On Saturday, Randle was able to provide it. He wasn't alone in finding success against Atlanta's defense.
Fournier had one of his most efficient games in a Knicks uniform. He scored the team's final 10 points of the first half to get the lead back up to 61-51 after the Hawks closed the deficit to four.
“They call that a heat check” 🔥<br><br>Evan Fournier with 10 straight points leading the Knicks into the half! <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/NBAXmas?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#NBAXmas</a><br><br>Halftime Score<a href="https://twitter.com/nyknicks?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@NYKnicks</a>: 61<a href="https://twitter.com/ATLHawks?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@ATLHawks</a>: 51 <a href="https://t.co/mdrpK75tZY">pic.twitter.com/mdrpK75tZY</a>
Walker's recent performance presents Thibodeau with a good problem to deal with when the rest of the Knicks roster gets healthy.
Thibodeau told reporters on Nov. 29 that Walker was taken out of New York's rotation for now because of his ongoing struggles. The four-time All-Star didn't appear in 10 straight games from Nov. 27 through Dec. 16, but he was forced back into the starting lineup for the past four games with the roster short-handed because of injuries and health and safety protocol.
Walker has responded by averaging 31.3 points per game in three games before Saturday, including a season-high 44 on Thursday. His triple-double against the Hawks was his first since April 4, 2014.
Kemba Walker is the second Knick in franchise history to follow a 40-point game with a triple double. (Carmelo Anthony, April 2012). He is the seventh player in NBA history, first since 2017 and first Knick to post a triple double on Christmas Day. <a href="https://twitter.com/EliasSports?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@EliasSports</a>
If Walker continues to play at this level, Thibodeau shouldn't hesitate to at least make him the first player off the bench to provide some offensive punch.
Given how bunched up things are at the bottom of the Eastern Conference, Walker playing up to his ability could help lift New York back into the mix for at least a spot in the play-in tournament.
Short-Handed Hawks Unable to Find Answers
It's impossible to draw any significant conclusions about the Hawks right now because of what their roster looks like.
Head coach Nate McMillan did have three of their five regular starters available, but Young is so essential to everything the coaching staff wants to do on offense that not having him changes their dynamic.
The Hawks didn't even play with a traditional point guard against the Knicks. Gorgui Dieng led the team with five assists off the bench.
Bogdan Bogdanovic is still trying to find his shooting form since returning from an ankle injury. He scored just eight points on 2-of-12 shooting against the Knicks after making six of 26 attempts in the previous two games combined.
Cam Reddish, making his third straight start, really struggled after two promising performances. He finished with 10 points and made just four of his 15 attempts from the field, though he did play well when the Hawks were trying to make a run late in the second half.
Defense has never been a strength for the Hawks under McMillan. The Knicks won on the strength of shooting 40 percent from three-point range (20-of-50), and they made each of their first seven shots overall.
The <a href="https://twitter.com/nyknicks?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@nyknicks</a> haven't missed on ESPN! <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/NBAXmas?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#NBAXmas</a><br><br>RJ: 1-for-1<br>Kemba: 2-for-2<br>Julius: 2-for-2<br>Fournier: 1-for-1<br>Mitch: 1-for-1 <a href="https://t.co/BgDjj2JXyN">pic.twitter.com/BgDjj2JXyN</a>
Wright was one of the few bright spots for the Hawks. He scored more points Saturday than in the previous three games combined (19).
If Wright can maintain this performance going forward, he will give the Hawks a useful rotation piece off the bench as they pursue a playoff spot.
The Hawks are entering a crucial stretch that could determine what direction their season goes in. Eight of their next 11 games are against teams currently in the playoffs.
The Hawks will host the Chicago Bulls in the first game of a home-and-home series on Monday at 7:30 p.m. ET. The Knicks will begin a four-game road trip against the Minnesota Timberwolves at Target Center on Tuesday at 8 p.m. ET.
This article will be updated to provide more information on this story as it becomes available.
Get the best sports content from the web and social in the new B/R app. Get the app and get the game.