Knicks again fall to Trae Young, Hawks
There would be no celebratory bow from Trae Young this time to punctuate the evening and rub it in to the Knicks and their fans.
“No, we’re in the regular season,” Young said with a smile.
But other than that missing bow, the Hawks star’s performance at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday night looked a lot like the ones he used to torture the Knicks and taunt their fans during last season’s playoffs.
Young led Atlanta to a 117-111 victory at Madison Square Garden with 45 points and eight assists, and helped push the Knicks out of realistic contention for the NBA play-in tournament.
The Hawks (36-36) are in the 10th and final spot and are six games ahead of the Knicks (30-42) with 10 to play.
“I knew it was us versus everybody tonight,” said Young, who was booed early and often.
Asked whether he heard fans say nice things about him near the court, he joked, “Oh, yeah, they always do, don’t they?”
Young was all smiles, but it was another glum night for the Knicks. While the Hawks’ leading scorer was having his way with the Knicks, the Knicks’ leading scorer was sitting on the bench in street clothes.
That would be Julius Randle, who began the day by being sidelined with a lingering quad injury and ended it being fined $40,000 by the NBA for directing hostile language toward an official after Sunday’s loss the Jazz.
It was Randle’s fourth fine this season.
The Knicks led 99-89 early in the fourth quarter while Young rested on the bench. It was 99-92 when he returned, and the Hawks’ fortunes changed immediately.
The game turned when Atlanta scored 11 points in a row after the Knicks led at 105-102.
Young, Bogdan Bogdanovic and De’Andre Hunter each made a three-pointer, then Young made an ankle-breaking move on the Knicks’ Taj Gibson that freed him for a pull-up jump shot, and that was that.
Bogdanovic scored 32 points off the bench for Atlanta. R.J. Barrett had 30 points and 13 rebounds and Alex Burks scored 21 points for the Knicks, who shot 14-for-26 from the free-throw line. “It’s a problem,” coach Tom Thibodeau said of the free throws. “We’ve got to fix it. Probably the difference [in the game].”
Thibodeau also lamented the Knicks’ problems on defensive rotations when they double-teamed Young. “The initial defense was good, but the finish was not,” he said.
Perhaps the Knicks’ lowest moment of the first half came when Clint Capela blocked a dunk attempt by Obi Toppin and punctuated it with a Dikembe Mutombo-style finger wag. “I talked to him at halftime about that,” Toppin said. “I was like, ‘Don’t do that again.’ He said, ‘My bad.’”
Barrett called Young a “special” player, but noted the Knicks finished 3-1 this regular season against Atlanta. Young missed the Hawks’ previous visit to the Garden on Christmas Day because of COVID-19 protocols.
The Knicks announced Randle would miss the game because of a sore right quadriceps tendon. Thibodeau said Randle has been sore of late and is day-to-day.
But the days are dwindling now, and the playoffs are all but impossible. “You’re not eliminated until you’re eliminated,” Thibodeau said, “so keep fighting.”
Randle almost fought with Utah’s Rudy Gobert on Sunday but ended up getting fined for jawing at an official. “You’re concerned about all your players,” Thibodeau said when asked about Randle’s frustration level during a difficult season. “You want to continue to improve. You want to learn. You don’t want to repeat the same mistakes over and over. I don’t want frustration to get in the way.”
On Tuesday night, Young was the Knicks’ biggest frustration. He did not take a bow, but he did put a bow on the Knicks’ playoff coffin.