One day after Zion Williamson and his Duke University teammates held court at Madison Square Garden, providing a tease to the top of the NBA Draft, the Knicks and Hawks played as if they were determined to chase the top pick.
The Knicks took a big early lead Friday night before watching it disappear, and the Hawks, even while scoring only one field goal in the last three minutes, hung on for a 114-107 win. The loss was the fourth straight for the Knicks (9-25) and their 11th in their last 13 games.
Emmanuel Mudiay had 32 points for the Knicks, who have the fifth-worst record in the NBA in terms of percentage at .265. Only the Cavaliers (.242), Bulls (.242), Suns (.250) and Hawks (.258) are worse.
The Knicks led by as many as 15 points in the first half, spurred by the early offense of Kevin Knox, who shot 7-for-8 and scored 17 points in the first quarter. He scored again 17 seconds into the second quarter but added only five more points the rest of the way.
“That first half I was on fire,” Knox said. “I felt really good out there, making the right reads, making my shots. Then that second half was just something I’ve got to get better at. I’m not very happy with myself, the way I played in the second half. That’s something I’ve got to really improve. I’m a rookie. I’m going to learn how to be able to fight through those moments, those tough times, and be able to stay hot, stay aggressive in the second half.”
Atlanta center Alex Len's three-pointer put the Hawks ahead for good at 102-99 and Knox misfired on a three on the other end. When Atlanta rookie Trey Young (15 points) broke through the defense for a layup, the Hawks led 104-99 with 3:46 to play, and the Knicks never got closer than three again.
“It’s still a tough one for everyone involved,” Knicks president Steve Mills said earlier in the day. “I mean, obviously I’m not happy, we’re not happy with our record. Even though this is a rebuilding process, I think we’ve been pretty clear that sort of our approach is to try to win every game we possibly can.
“While our guys are competitive and they are finding a way to fight in games, one of the things that happens when you see young players play is they don’t always know how to keep themselves out of digging deep, deep holes. We have too frequently found a way to have one really, really bad quarter in a game. We’ve got to find a way to eliminate those things from how we’re approaching sort of our day-to-day activities.”