Knicks Snap Judgments on 2021 Playoff Fate After Game 2 vs. Hawks

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistMay 27, 2021

Knicks Snap Judgments on 2021 Playoff Fate After Game 2 vs. Hawks

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    Elsa/Associated Press

    NBA playoff series can change in an instant.

    So as much as we might like to treat the day after the postseason's opening weekend as Overreaction Monday, the truth is a single contest or two can be of colossal importance.

    Just look at the New York Knicks. All of 48 minutes had passed in their first playoff series since 2013, and already people were putting must-win stakes on their second tussle with the Atlanta Hawks.

    Those people were right too. If the Knicks had dropped Game 2 and headed down to Atlanta in an 0-2 hole, they may as well have started making arrangements for an early June vacation.

    But New York didn't let that happen. More specifically, coach Tom Thibodeau's defense didn't let that happen. Despite posting a forgettable 38.3/36.4/73.9 team shooting slash, the Knicks survived and scratched out a critical 101-92 triumph over Trae Young and the Hawks.

    With respect to momentum's pendulum-like swings, let's fire off some snap judgments about these very much alive and kicking Knicks.

Julius Randle Has Arrived

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    Vincent Carchietta/Associated Press

    When Julius Randle tells the tale of his first playoff trip, there might be a temptation to fast-forward through his first six quarters.

    He had a disastrous Game 1, shooting just 6-of-23 and matching his 10th-lowest scoring total of the season with 15 points. In the first half of Game 2, the newly minted Most Improved Player was even worse. He entered intermission without a field goal, shooting 0-of-6 from the field and putting up a woeful two points.

    But he finally awakened in the third quarter. Randle opened the period with a three-pointer and wound up scoring 11 points on 4-of-5 shooting in the frame, during which the Knicks turned a 13-point deficit into a one-point lead.

    He only scored two more points after that, finishing with 15 points on 5-of-16 shooting. But that flash of regular-season, All-Star Randle was enough—enough for the Knicks to get the win and enough to think better days are ahead of New York's offensive focal point.

    "Julius is not going to go away," Thibodeau told reporters. "He's going to keep coming. He's got a great will, great determination and he's a fighter."

    Randle's career has been defined by perseverance. Drafted seventh overall in 2014, he was allowed to walk away from both the Los Angeles Lakers and New Orleans Pelicans in free agency. While he put up decent numbers, there were questions about his ability to influence winning.

    Well, he influenced a lot of winning this season, and if Game 2 is any indication, he will do more of the same this postseason.

Derrick Rose Can Be a Difference-Maker

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    Seth Wenig/Associated Press

    Derrick Rose didn't hit the ground running in his NBA career as much as he was shot out of a cannon.

    As a freshman, he captured Rookie of the Year honors. As a sophomore, he made his All-Star debut. By his third season, he earned the MVP, becoming the youngest player to win the award.

    Theoretically, it shouldn't be the least bit surprising for a player of this ilk to carry his club to a playoff victory. But given the many battles he has endured with the injury bug, there were times when it appeared his days as a relevant NBA player were behind him.

    About that.

    The Knicks don't win Game 2 without him. They may not have even put up much of a fight. Their 22nd-ranked offense doesn't have much margin for error to begin with, and its uphill fight was made more difficult by the uncharacteristic struggles of regular-season scoring leaders Randle and RJ Barrett (13 points on 5-of-14 shooting).

    If someone told you Randle and Barrett would combine for 28 points on 30 shots in Game 2, you would ask how much the Knicks were defeated by—and brace yourself to hear some massive number. Rose made sure that wasn't the case, totaling 26 points on 9-of-21 shooting (and a perfect 6-of-6 at the stripe) and committing just a single turnover in his game-high 39 minutes.

Defense Can Still Dominate in the Modern NBA

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    Vincent Carchietta/Associated Press

    To put this series in proverbial terms, this was the age-old matchup between the unstoppable force (Atlanta's ninth-ranked offense) and the immovable object (New York's fourth-ranked defense).

    While a certain cliche might give the advantage to defense, a basic knowledge of the modern NBA would have you siding with the offense.

    But that's apparently faulty logic when Thibodeau is engineering said defense.

    The Knicks couldn't contain Young (30 points and seven assists), but they bottled up just about every single one of his teammates. Bogdan Bogdanovic, Danilo Gallinari and Lou Williams managed just 29 points on a combined 11-of-37 shooting. John Collins went scoreless in 15 foul-plagued minutes. Clint Capela had four points and a single offensive rebound in 36 minutes.

    Atlanta's final stat sheet essentially just read "system error." The Hawks' 92 points matched their fifth-lowest total of the season. Collectively, they shot just 36.9 percent from the field and 27.3 percent from three while nearly erasing their 17 assists with 13 turnovers.

    This is New York's blueprint for escaping this series. The Knicks don't have the firepower to outscore the Hawks, but their hard-working, Thibs-coached defense can still put them on the right side of the ledger.