new york knicks
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The Knicks’ starters and youth flashed an identity in a revenge win against the Hawks

The New York Knicks are keeping their heads above water despite inconsistent play this year. They are 11-9 and in the thick of things in the Eastern Conference. However, they haven’t showcased any kind of identity that defines them as a team.

Until Saturday night in Atlanta. The Knicks took down the Hawks with a balanced effort from the starters and bench, winning 99-90. The offense sputtered at times, but the defense was suffocating and relentless. This looked like the closest version of last year’s regular-season squad.

Mitchell Robinson and rookie Jericho Sims provided the rim protection. Immanuel Quickley, Quentin Grimes, and Alec Burks were dogs on the perimeter. Even Julius Randle, who struggled to get going offensively, was pulling down boards left and right.

At a quick glance, the box score would make it look like the Knicks struggled to contain Trae Young. That’s true, but only in part. The NY villain dropped 33 points and dished out seven assists, but only two of those points and one assist came in the fourth quarter.

The Knicks switched the pick-and-roll more than they have in the past. By putting Burks on John Collins to start possessions, Tom Thibodeau ensured that he was getting a matchup he liked. Quickley did a fantastic job harassing Young and others at the point of attack.

Sure, Quickley was a paltry 1-for-7 from deep, but this was one of his best games as a Knick. With Derrick Rose and Kemba Walker sidelined, he needed to step up his playmaking and run the offense. His seven assists matched a season-high and electrified the Knicks fans who made the trip to Atlanta. His connection with the blossoming Obi Toppin is a sight to behold.

Speaking of Toppin, he’s quickly becoming a showstopper. No one runs the floor harder or better than Toppin on the Knicks and it shows whenever he steps on the floor. He scored 11 points in nine first-half minutes to carry the scoring load.

Offensively, it was a nice balance with different guys stepping up at different moments. Burks exploded for 15 points in the third quarter, Evan Fournier knocked down four triples, and RJ Barrett added 15 of his own.

This is the kind of win the Knicks were known for last season — a strong defensive effort with just enough offense to get by.

Can the Knicks carry this momentum into a Tuesday matchup with the Brooklyn Nets? Will Thibs continue to find minutes for the young guys who are knocking on the door?

Saturday night’s win was a positive sign, but as we’ve seen with the Knicks this year, the team’s consistently inconsistent.

NY/NJ hoops reporter (NBA/NCAA) & sports betting writer for XL Media. Never had the makings of a varsity athlete.