The Knicks got a measure of revenge Saturday, even if a regular-season game in late November doesn’t pay back a one-sided playoff series loss. But they still went into State Farm Arena in Atlanta and broke the Hawks’ seven-game winning streak with a shorthanded, hard-working victory.
It provided a boost for the Knicks after a humbling loss to the red-hot Suns a night earlier at Madison Square Garden, but they acknowledged that it means something just for a day, with more tests to come and a lot of questions to answer.
The Knicks’ gantlet of games against some of the best teams in the NBA resumes Tuesday against the Nets, who have their own payback to account for after the Suns continued on to Barclays Center and dominated them, too. But the Knicks are not going to put too much on their game in Brooklyn, no more than they put on the win in Atlanta.
"Obviously, we have a tough schedule ahead," Evan Fournier said. "I think we all know that. I’m new here, so I don’t know how much of a factor Nets versus Knicks is. I guess I’m going to find out. I think we should approach every game like it’s the same. We want to win every game, we want to compete every game. It doesn’t matter who’s in front of us. It’s good for the fans. Let’s say that."
Fournier was part of the Celtics squad that was knocked out of the playoffs by the Nets last season.
"They were really good," he said. "Kyrie [Irving] was playing. I mean, let’s be honest — if Kyrie and James Harden don’t get injured, they probably win it all. So they can be extremely good."
The Knicks got the win in Atlanta by doing what they did so many times last season: battling harder and longer than the opposition and wearing down Trae Young. He scored 31 points in the first three quarters but was held to two in the fourth period in the Knicks’ 99-90 win.
The Knicks also got a stellar performance from Alec Burks, who was inserted into the starting lineup with Derrick Rose nursing a sprained right ankle and Kemba Walker taking a rest day. Burks scored 15 of his 23 points in the third quarter, shootng 4-for-5 from three-point range.
The performance was enough to raise this question: Might the Knicks be better right now with Burks in the starting lineup and Walker playing with the second unit?
Walker has struggled through much of the season since joining the Knicks as a free agent, and the awkward fit has left the Knicks in a hole most nights, with the second unit outplaying the starters. Maybe most important, Julius Randle has not been the same force he was last season with the addition of Walker and Fournier in the starting lineup.
"There’s always decisions to be made," coach Tom Thibodeau said. "So we’re always going to do what’s best for the team."
Dating to his days in Chicago, Thibodeau has a history of being hesitant to make a switch. That was obvious last season when he stuck with Elfrid Payton as a starter until finally shifting in the playoffs.
Asked if there was a time when he was a regular starter, Burks struggled to recall and said, "A little bit, but that was years ago." He started five games for the Knicks last season and has never started more games in a season than he has come off the bench.
"I think, as a team, we’re a great team with a lot of depth," he said. "So I think anybody can step up at any time, one through 15. It was just my night tonight."