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Trae Young crosses up Knicks in Game 1 loss to Hawks

The Knicks' Nerlens Noel, right, fouls the Hawks'

The Knicks' Nerlens Noel, right, fouls the Hawks' Trae Young, center, during the second half of Game 1 of an NBA first-round playoff series Sunday at Madison Square Garden. Credit: AP/Seth Wenig

It had been eight years since the last time the Knicks hosted a playoff game at Madison Square Garden and, let’s be honest, it felt like a million years since a night like this in which fans were crammed into nearly every seat in the venerable arena.

So it wasn’t surprising that the emotions poured out when the lights dimmed for the pregame introductions, releasing years of frustration with the long-struggling franchise and 14 months of being left mostly to watch this righting of the ship on TV and talk about it with friends on Zoom.

So the fans were loud and they were strong, maybe too strong, chanting repeated expletives at Trae Young. And in the end, Young answered back, putting his finger to his lips to silence them, leaving the floor and noting "It got real quiet in there," a condition he had created with one last bit of heroics.

Young delivered the game-winner with nine-tenths of a second left, repeatedly crossing over defensive specialist Frank Ntilikina as he made his way from the backcourt into the lane and hitting a floater over Julius Randle with nine-tenths of a second left for a 107-105 Hawks win in Game 1 of the first-round playoff series.

Young left the floor with 32 points and 10 assists — and a signal for the crowd to go silent.

"If they hate me that much, I must be doing something right," he said. "I just have to let my play do the talking. At the end of the play, they can only talk. They can’t guard me. They are not out there playing. For me, it’s just a part of the game. I’m glad fans are back and MSG was rocking tonight. I am glad everyone got to come in and experience the game. It was good."

The Knicks already had failed with Elfrid Payton on Young. Derrick Rose also struggled to contain him. So on the final play, with 9.8 seconds remaining, Tom Thibodeau sent in Ntilikina.

"For me, anybody who pressures, I feel like I can get by anybody," said Young, who went right and easily got past Ntilikina before hitting the floater. "It’s just figuring out how to use one move and get by him. Obviously, Frank’s a good defender. If you play with the ball too much, he can poke at it, things like that. A defender like him, you kind of just got to go. That’s what I did. I just attacked his outside foot and was able to get around him and get to my floater.

"I was trying to find a way to get open and get the ball. John [Collins] was going to set a screen for me and he lost his shoe. I kind of waved him off. I didn’t want anything to get out there to get messy. I had to go make a play and I told my team I was going to make a play too. It just happened."

"Obviously, you’re putting Frank in for his defense," Thibodeau said. "But he made a good play. We’ll take a look at the film and go from there . . .   We just wanted to get the ball stopped and so it was sort of a broken play. And he’s very good at changing direction. So we’ll take a look at it and see if we can come up with a better plan."

If the fans were excited, it seemed that the Knicks were, too. If it was jitters, it was understandable, and there needed to be some reason to explain it away. Missed shots, turnovers and bungled defensive assignments seemed to leave the crowd with little to do other than taunt and curse at the Hawks.

A lift from the bench kept the Knicks in the game as they waited for the stars to find their footing. In the third quarter, RJ Barrett went airborne on a fast break and threw down a monstrous dunk over Bogdan Bogdanovic to tie the score and shake the Garden to its foundation. But highlights would not be enough to match Young’s heroics.

Alec Burks led the Knicks with 27 points off the bench, including 18 in the fourth quarter. Rose added 17, including a driving floater that tied the score at 105 with 10.2 seconds left.

The Hawks wanted to slow Randle and succeeded. They limited him to 6-for-23 shooting and 15 points as they threw bodies at him, with De’Andre Hunter doing much of the work.

"I knew they were going to do that," Randle said. "I still liked the opportunity and shots I got. I’ll look at film and adjust. There’s no excuses. I don’t really care what they did. I just got to go back to the film. A lot of shots and looks I got, I liked. But I got to figure it out and make it a little easier and adjust to the next game."

New York Sports