The New York Knicks break back against the Atlanta Hawks with a dominant defensive performance in the second half.
That is a vintage New York Knicks win. It wasn’t always pretty, but Tom Thibodeau was able to make enough tweaks at halftime to push the Knicks past the Atlanta Hawks in Game 2 and even the series at 1-1.
Julius Randle and RJ Barrett were inconsistent again, but Derrick Rose, Taj Gibson, and Reggie Bullock picked up the slack. Here are three highlights and three observations from new York’s 101-92 win over Atlanta.
Highlight 1: Obi Toppin Fever
OBI TOPPIN HAS THE GARDEN POPPIN' pic.twitter.com/znDgCKYIv2
— NEW YORK KNICKS (@nyknicks) May 27, 2021
Highlight 2: Obi, Obi, Obi
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) May 27, 2021
Highlight 3: Randle Dagger
Jules puts it up… PUTS IT IN! pic.twitter.com/0keFh65UKk
— NEW YORK KNICKS (@nyknicks) May 27, 2021
Observation 1: Defense on Trae Young
If you take a look at Trae Young’s final statline, he had a great night — 30 points and seven assists. But in reality, he was severely limited in the second half.
The Knicks stuck with their favored drop coverage for most of the first half, but upped the intensity at the break. They threw a few more double teams, blitzes, and aggressive hedges at him as the game progressed, but they still stick to their bread-and-butter.
This is exactly what the Knicks were trying to do to Young in Game 1, but the execution wasn’t there. Thibs will live with Young taking a ton of tough shots because the plan was to limit the chances for other Hawks to score.
Going all-in on that strategy worked. Young looked a bit sluggish in the second half and the other guys couldn’t find a rhythm. The Knicks held the Hawks to 18 and 17 points in the third and fourth quarter, respectively.
Holding a player to 30 points and seven assists doesn’t sound like good defense, but it was in fact, great defense. Bogdan Bogdanovic and Danilo Gallinari were a combined 4-for-22 from three while John Collins and Clint Capela combined for a whopping four points.
Thibs will gladly watch Trae Young rack up 30 point games as long as they are holding the Hawks to under 100 points.
Observation 2: Thibs Guys
There have been plenty of jokes over the years about Thibodeau trying to recreate those early 2010s Bulls teams, but it wasn’t a laughing matter on Wednesday. After watching his team sleepwalk through the first half, Thibs turned to Rose and Gibson to start the second half in place of Elfrid Payton and Nerlens Noel. The move paid off.
Rose was a lifeboat for the Knicks when they couldn’t buy a bucket and although Gibson is no dominant rim protector at this point in his career, he’s a Jedi defensively. He might not get up as high as he used to, but he is disruptive enough in the passing lanes to anchor the defense.
No one can question how much Thibs believes in Rose and Gibson. With their backs against the wall, it was the two “Thibs guys” on this roster who came up clutch.
“Both (Rose) and Taj have been in a number of playoff games,” Thibs told reporters after the game. “So I think they understand that we have some guys that haven’t been in playoff games.”
That experience proved to be the difference. Rose’s 26 points led the Knicks and Gibson’s six points, seven rebounds, three steals, and one block can’t begin to explain the impact he had on this game. Plus-minus is not always reliable as a single-game statistic, but Gibson’s +23 was a game-high — Noel was a team-worst -14.
Is it 2011 again?
Observation 3: Still Need More
Yes, the Knicks still need a lot more from Julius Randle and RJ Barrett. Randle had a strong second half that spurred the comeback and Barrett was hot early, but it’s not enough. They were just 10-for-30 from the floor.
Randle and Barrett are the first and second banana on this roster and they have yet to put together four quarters of consistent basketball. That could be good or bad news depending on your level of optimism.
With Reggie Bullock starting to heat up — he hit four second-half threes — that should open up the lane for Randle and Barrett. The Knicks only need to steal one of the next two games in Atlanta to steal back home-court advantage. They can’t be too upset with the position they are in, but they won’t win three more games without their best players stepping up.