ATLANTA – Julius Randle absorbed scorn from the audience, but this time it was where it belonged, in the hostile environment of the State Farm Arena. So when he responded, with his game – and his thumb – that was exactly what the Knicks needed.
Randle lit a fire for a fading Knicks team, a 17-point lead down to three in the fourth quarter, and with a 24-point, nine-assist effort, the Knicks led to a 117-108 victory over the struggling Atlanta Hawks. And when the Knicks could finally breathe a sigh of relief in the final moments, Randle responded with a smile Hawks fans with a thumbs-down motion.
With the arena suddenly tipping and the lead down to three, Randle Barrett found with a cross-court pass to a three and a 106-100 lead. Then, surrounded by defenders under the basket, Randle got pumped, made contact and fell into a layup with an error called. As he went from under the rim, he signaled a thumb down, but this time to the opponents behind the Hawks bench.
He missed the free throw, but little else as the Knicks kept the run going, a 10-0 burst to put the game out of reach. The last laugh ensured, the crowd that had shouted, “Trae’s your daddy” to him, streamed to the exits.
“I thought Julius made good readings the whole game long, and then it got us started,” Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said. “Nor can you say enough about the way RJ plays. When those guys are aggressive that way, it opens things up. I thought rebounding was a big factor.
“The defense in the first half was really good. I thought that when we first got up early in the third – we came up 17 – we kind of went loose, and you can not do that in this league. You get loose against a good offensive team “, as they are, and they can cut 10 points in a minute, and they did. So, then you fight for your life, and that’s what we did.”
The only well-known reminder of last season’s rivalry when the Hawks knocked the Knicks out of the offseason with an easy five-game opening round series was the sponsored fan section that left the Knicks with insults from the start of the game until it was played. over.
A sparse crowd in the stands and a trade two days earlier between the two teams with a couple of players who did not join the match – Cam Reddish for the Knicks and Kevin Knox for the Hawks – this match hardly felt like something like playoff intensity.
Instead, it marked a fifth loss in a row for the surprisingly disappointing Hawks and a third win in a row and fifth in six games for the Knicks, pushing them to 22-21 this season.
Barrett carried the load early in the match, scoring 13 points and handing out three assists in the first 14 minutes of the match before taking a breather and finishing with the team’s best 26 points. With Clint Capela out of action for Atlanta, Mitchell Robinson had 14 points and 12 rebounds.
Then it was Randle’s turn. The Knicks led 42-38 when Randle entered the game again with 7:18 left in the first half. He went to the free throw line and hit a pair just 11 seconds later, beginning a streak where he took over the fight and turned a close fight into a one-sided lead at the break.
After Trae Young hit a stepback jumper, Randle joined on a mid-range jumper and then fed Mitchell Robinson to a dunk. Randle then hit a jumper on the baseline, a three-pointer, a driving layup and a dunk. He then handed a pass to Evan Fournier for a three-pointer, which struck a run of 18 equal points, which Randle either scored or assisted on. With Randle up to 15 points and six assists, the Knicks built up a 65-51 lead at the break.
In the third quarter, after a brief run from the Hawks, reducing a 17-point lead to 10, Randle joined a jumper to stop a 7-0 run, and then he put Atlanta’s John Collins on the floor with a fake, blown past and to swing the ball around, leading to a Robinson dunk and a 14-point lead.
it’s a great team win, “Barrett said.” They really fought back, but a number of us made great plays down the stretch. So it was fun to watch. “
The Hawks did not disappear, closing the hole for eight into the fourth quarter, and after the Knicks took a 90-77 lead, the Hawks responded with nine straight points to close the hole for four with 8:35 left. Barrett went to the line and hit one of two, with Randle grabbing the rebound on the other, leading to a Robinson dunk and the lead back to seven. Danilo Gallinari hooked on a jumper and Onyeka Okongwu hit a Randle drive the second time he did it in the quarterfinals and Lou Williams buried a three, closing the hole for two. A Knicks turnover gave the Hawks a chance to equalize, but Williams turned the ball over and Fournier buried a long jumper.
Notes and quotes: Nerlens Noel warmed up and was on the bench at the start of the match, but he was unable to get a sore left knee loose and never got into the match, except in the first quarter.