new york knicks
Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Knicks are barely breathing after a Game 5 loss to the Atlanta Hawks. It’s going to take a miracle to win this series.

Danny Small

It’s gut-check time for the New York Knicks. The Atlanta Hawks hold serve in their first two games at home to take a 3-1 series lead over the hapless Knicks. New York hung tough in the first half but watched Atlanta outscore them 38-25 in the third quarter.

Game 4 was the same old story that we’ve seen twice before. Trae Young was getting into the paint at will and Atlanta’s shooters were knocking down their open looks. Young had a game-high 27 points and nine assists.

On the flip side, Julius Randle was awful again, throwing the entire offense into a funk. The All-Star fell three assists shy of a triple-double, but his final stat line doesn’t tell the story.

These four playoff games are his worst stretch of the season, without a doubt. Atlanta’s sending double teams at the right time and forcing him into tough, contested twos. Even the few open shots he’s getting aren’t falling. “Nightmare” is the best way to describe this series for Randle.

It helps that the Hawks are using Clint Capela as a rover in lieu of putting a defender on Taj Gibson or Nerlens Noel. Gibson is figuring out ways to make an impact, but Noel has been dreadful on both ends of the floor. He’s dealing with an ankle injury that is likely slowing him down.

Where’s the Defense?

The Knicks were one of the top-ranked defenses in the NBA by any metric. However, perhaps most importantly, they were first in the NBA in three-point defense (33.7%). That has not translated to the postseason. Atlanta is shooting 55-for-144 (38.2%) from deep on the year. The Knicks, specifically Randle and Reggie Bullock, looked sluggish and late on closeouts.

Even though the Knicks dropped Games 1 and 3, the defense was strong. They lost because they didn’t make enough shots. Game 4 was a combination of missing shots and horrendous defense.

Rose & Gibson Again

Once again, Derrick Rose and Taj Gibson were two of the only Knicks with a pulse. Rose’s 18 points and six assists carried the Knicks for a few quarters, but he didn’t have another 30-point gem in his bag.

As for Gibson, it’s another game where his impact goes beyond the numbers. His active hands continue to disrupt the Hawks all over the court even though he might not have the vertical rim protection that Thibs wants in his centers.

No one on this team has as much playoff experience as Rose and Gibson, but they can’t do it alone.

RJ Barrett Shows Up

There aren’t many positives for the Knicks to take away from this game. However, RJ Barrett finally looked comfortable out there on offense. After missing his first few shots, Barrett finished with 21 points on 8-for-15 shooting to go along with six rebounds and four assists.

They need Randle to play well to have any chance of winning this series, but Barrett is a close second in that regard. Perhaps this mini-burst will give Barrett the confidence he needs to go off in Game 5.

What’s Next?

The Knicks and Hawks will run it back in Madison Square Garden on Wednesday (7:30 p.m. ET). Obviously, the Knicks need to win three in a row to complete the comeback.

Things got a little chippy between the Knicks and Hawks in the final minutes. Bullock didn’t take kindly to a Danilo Gallinari elbow and Randle retaliated with a forearm shiver on the next play.

The heat is turning up for the Knicks as they try to avoid an embarrassing ending to an otherwise incredible season.

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