ATLANTA — The week had been chaotic for the Knicks — changing the leadership at the top of the front office, trading away the best player on the team — the sort of week that for most franchises would inspire books to chronicle the ugly details.
For the Knicks, it was a time of hope. An odd confluence for sure, but in the midst of what would be crippling chaos for some teams, they somehow mounted a four-game winning streak. They also began to wonder if this team that was about to be dismantled for another rebuild might have a chance to make the postseason.
Some of it was the schedule and some of it was attributable to the mediocrity of the Eastern Conference. But there they were, five games out of the eighth playoff berth with only the equally dismal Hawks and Wizards standing between them and a six-game winning streak entering the All-Star break.
Instead, reality struck in the slender, undersized form of Trae Young. The Hawks pinched the Knicks awake from that dream Sunday, beating them in double overtime, 140-135, behind Young’s 48 points and 13 assists.
“We continue to fight,” said Julius Randle, who had 35 points and 18 rebounds for the Knicks (17-37). “I’m proud of my guys that we continue to fight. We were down 16 in the fourth, on the road, second night of a back-to-back. Come here and play two overtimes and really give us a chance to win. We felt we should’ve won and let it slip away.”
After a late flurry, fueled as much by the Knicks’ offensive ineptitude as Young’s heroics, the Hawks forced a second OT and took control, building a seven-point lead before going cold. They didn’t score in the final 2:12 until, with the lead down to three, Young was fouled with 12.4 seconds left. He hit both free throws to seal the victory. Randle drove uncontested for his 35th point, but Young went back to the line and hit two, making him 16-for-16 on the night.
The Knicks squandered an early 15-point lead and fell behind by 16 early in the fourth. But they battled back, tying the score with 30.3 seconds remaining on Randle’s two free throws.
With 22 seconds left in regulation, Young got into the lane but opted to lob a pass for John Collins (32 points, 16 rebounds) that the Knicks swiped. Randle misfired at the other end and the Hawks grabbed the rebound and called timeout with 1.2 seconds left.
Young got free on an inbounds pass and floated a shot over Mitchell Robinson, but it slipped around nearly every part of the rim before rolling off and sending the game to overtime.
The Knicks built an eight-point lead and then seemed to want to play keepaway. A 24-second violation and a blocked shot at the rim allowed the Hawks to close the gap to 126-124 with 32.5 seconds left in the extra session. Elfrid Payton then got stuck, traveling with 11.6 seconds remaining and giving the Hawks another chance. Young drove by Payton, drawing a foul with 7.2 seconds left, and hit both to tie the score.
“There was a couple of possessions we wished we could get back, and that’s definitely one of them,” Wayne Ellington said of the 24-second violation. “We stopped attacking. We got a little complacent thinking, OK, let’s try to run some clock out, and we ran a little too much clock out.
“It’s tough. It hurts. Everybody is upset. We all wanted to keep on going, keep on winning. But we learned from it. We go back to the drawing board and we learn from it.
“I was telling guys after the game, shoot, it’s hard to win five in a row in this league no matter what type of team you’re on, who’s on your team or what’s going on. It’s hard to win five in a row in this league. We were right there. We’ll keep on pushing.”
The Knicks have not won five games in a row since March 2014, when they won eight straight games. The way they celebrated that streak was to name Phil Jackson team president in the midst of the streak and fire coach Mike Woodson a month later.
This time the Knicks had won two straight, including arguably their most impressive victory of the season on the road against Indiana, when they announced the removal of team president Steve Mills.
The wins other than the Indiana victory have been against teams on their level — at Cleveland, home against Orlando and at Detroit. Still, when you’re as far down as the Knicks have been, any win is a good win. And the Knicks, as odd as it might sound, are watching the standings.
“Yeah, it’s inevitable. When you look at it, that’s the goal,” Randle said. “I’m proud of that we take every game a game at a time. It shows the maturity of our team — having a singular focus on every game. That’s how you get a winning streak.”
Notes & quotes: Reggie Bullock had 21 points for the Knicks, who were without Moe Harkless. He joined the team in Detroit on Saturday but sat out that game and was scratched Sunday with an illness.