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Knicks' Alec Burks, bench provide spark in win over Hawks

Atlanta Hawks guard Trae Young (11) defends Knicks

Atlanta Hawks guard Trae Young (11) defends Knicks guard Alec Burks (18) during the second half of an NBA basketball game Saturday, Nov. 27, 2021, in Atlanta. Credit: AP/Hakim Wright Sr.

ATLANTA — The Knicks returned to State Farm Arena on Saturday for the first time in nearly six months to face the Hawks, who had spoiled their season with a one-sided playoff series.

The Knicks might have arrived with more questions than they left with in June. At that time, it was a simple thought to add offensive firepower to a team desperately in need of it. But now, as Atlanta entered the game with a seven-game winning streak, the Knicks came in banged up and maybe more confused about their direction than they were when last season ended.

Trae Young took them apart just as he had in the playoffs, scoring 33 points. After being shut down by the Hawks in the playoffs, Julius Randle struggled through an eight-point effort after a scoreless first half. But the bench again provided the energy to carry the Knicks to a surprising 99-90 win.

It certainly wasn’t a complete picture for these teams — the Knicks played without Derrick Rose, Kemba Walker, Taj Gibson and Nerlens Noel and the Hawks were without DeAndre Hunter and lost Cam Reddish and Bogdan Bogdanovic to injuries in the first half. But the Knicks will take a win over the Hawks in any form.

"We played hard and that was the first thing we wanted to get established," coach Tom Thibodeau said. "They’re a terrific team, they missed some shots they normally make, but I thought we were flying around pretty good. To win on the road against a team like this, you have to play hard on every possession. It requires everyone working together. When we work together, we’re pretty good."

Alec Burks stepped into the starting lineup for the first time this season and responded by leading the Knicks with 23 points. Evan Fournier added 20. Obi Toppin added 13 off the bench as he, Immanuel Quickley and rookies Jericho Sims and Quentin Grimes provided an energy shot. Randle, taunted from start to finish by the Atlanta fans, shot just 3-for-14.

"I think, as a team, we’re a great team with a lot of depth," Burks said. "So I think anybody can step up at any time, one through 15. It was just my night tonight."

"That’s big-money AB," RJ Barrett said. "He’s always calm and collected. He got us into our stuff. He took over in the third. He’s really good for us, big time. It’s great, that next- man-up mentality. Having the guys that we have on the bench, we don’t miss a beat."

"I thought they did a terrific job," Thibodeau said. "I thought what Alec gives us is size, the ability to contain the ball. [He] also has playmaking ability [and] shooting; you add that up, it’s a lot. Then I thought our bench was terrific, I thought the way they played when they came in, that was huge for us."

Even in victory, there were troublesome signs. Walker had to take the night off for rest even with Rose sidelined and the team in need. Randle fell victim to the same nightmares that the Hawks caused him in the postseason, missing his first seven attempts.

Still, the Knicks managed to withstand the onslaught. Young hit a wall in the second half and no one was able to pick up the offense for Atlanta this time.

The Knicks built a 10-point lead in the second quarter, with the youthful energy of the bench unit carrying them. But when Randle came back on the floor, the lead was whittled to 51-50 at the half after Young went on one of his flurries, including a pair of long three-pointers.

Young started the third quarter the way he ended the first half, hitting a long three and feeding Clint Capela for a pair of dunks and a 57-51 lead.

But out of a timeout, the Knicks began to push back. Burks scored 15 points in the third quarter, which concluded with the Knicks ahead 85-74.

"It was a great win, honestly, no matter who it was against," Barrett said. "Especially after last night [a 118-97 loss to the Suns], to be able to come in and bounce back today, that was really important for us. Felt good to come in and bounce back on the second night of a back-to-back."

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