The night began with a video montage and with Phil Jackson, Derek Fisher and Carmelo Anthony speaking about the team, the season and what could be. But then the game began, and the Knicks and their fans were given a reality check.
The Knicks couldn't use the same formula that resulted in a 25-point victory in Milwaukee on opening night. Their bench couldn't bail them out this time.
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They played a superior team in their home opener Thursday night and trailed by as many as 22 points before falling to the Hawks, 112-101, at the Garden.
The Knicks, who were down by double figures in the last 25:11 of the game, probably aren't as bad as they looked against the Hawks, just as they're not as good as they looked against the Bucks.
"Atlanta's a good team," Fisher said. "Good teams are able to play better longer. They were able to do that. We saw the difference between the level they are at right now and where we are right now."
The Knicks have plenty of wrinkles to iron out. Anthony is struggling with his shot. He scored 25 points, but shot 10-for-27 and missed all seven of his three-point tries.
The Knicks still don't have their full lineup and their starting unit does not look in sync, particularly on defense.
Guards Jose Calderon and Sasha Vujacic were several steps slow and badly outplayed by Atlanta starters Jeff Teague and Kyle Korver.
Teague had 23 points and seven assists and Korver added 15 points, shooting 6-for-8 from the field. Vujacic, starting for the injured Arron Afflalo, and Calderon totaled eight points. Calderon was 0-for-5 from the field.
But Fisher doesn't sound ready to go younger and start rookie Jerian Grant or second-year guard Langston Galloway.
"It's always very interesting to me to see how quickly things change," Fisher said. "[Wednesday] night, everything was great and the sun was up. Now suddenly there is no sun because we lost."
Robin Lopez scored 18 points and rookie Kristaps Porzingis had 10 points and eight rebounds in his Garden regular-season debut.
Porzingis received the loudest ovation of the night after he stole the ball in the backcourt, spun around Paul Millsap and went in for an uncontested fast-break dunk in the third quarter. It was one of the few times the Garden was energized.
"I just thought they was one step ahead of us the whole night," Anthony said.
The Hawks were Eastern Conference finalists a year ago and lost their opener to Detroit. They were looking to bounce back and were much sharper right from the beginning.
Atlanta led by 10 after one. The Knicks needed their bench to lead them back and the reserves did, scoring the first 11 points of the second quarter to put the Knicks up 31-30. But the Hawks rattled off 15 of the game's next 19 points and took a 61-45 lead into halftime.
Anthony made his first two shots in the third quarter as the Knicks cut the Hawks' lead to 65-51. Then Teague took over. He got wherever he wanted on the floor, especially against Calderon, and scored 11 consecutive Atlanta points in one stretch as the Hawks went ahead 79-57 with 5:42 remaining in the third.
The subs trimmed it to 12 by the end of the quarter, but the Knicks never got it under that until the last basket of the game.
"You could pretty much anticipate they were going to come and play a good game," Fisher said. "We weren't ready for it. But we will be one day."