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It’s safe to say Game 1 against the Hawks did not go the way the Knicks, their staff, or their fan base expected. Atlanta’s 107-105 victory, behind Trae Young’s 32 points and game-winning floater, effectively silenced Madison Square Garden.
Despite the gut-wrenching loss, there are many positives to take out of it heading into Game 2 and the rest of the series -- enough so to remain optimistic about New York’s chances.
Julius Randle’s return
Julius Randle becoming an All-NBA level player, though not the only reason, was a damn big one for the Knicks being in this position. Seemingly every night you’d get 25-10-5 -- something along those lines -- with few exceptions. Naturally, his poor Game 1 was a huge reason they lost.
The Hawks didn’t deploy any especially confounding looks at Randle, at least anything he hasn’t seen before. In fact, he had many moments of single coverage, even by some of Atlanta’s less threatening defenders like Danilo Gallinari. Yet the newly crowned Most Improved Player badly struggled in his postseason debut, with only 15 points on 6-of-23 shooting from the field.
It’s hard to imagine Randle falling short to this degree again. He’s already promised redemption, and we’re inclined to believe him. The fact that this game was close throughout and finished within two points despite his play should give fans increased conviction going forward.
The kids are alright
Continuing the trend they established in the regular season, rookies Obi Toppin and Immanuel Quickley once again showed on Sunday night that they can contribute to winning in big games, displaying zero postseason jitters whatsoever.
In their bench minutes, the Knicks narrowed the Hawks' lead behind five points, one rebound and one assist for Toppin in eight minutes and 10 points and three assists from Quickley in 21 minutes. They also sent the crowd into a frenzy with a thunderous slam from Toppin and a couple of quick trigger deep threes from Quickley.
That the Knicks can rely on these two neophytes on this stage may not come as a surprise, but it is certainly encouraging especially after the start to the season Toppin had, and the end Quickley had.
Atlanta’s breaks, New York’s adjustments
This isn’t as quantifiable as the above, but Game 1 appeared to swing every 50/50 play in the Hawks’ favor. Whether it was the handful of phantom foul calls on the Knicks in the fourth quarter, or Bogdan Bogdanovic somehow getting off and nailing the nearly fumbled corner three, New York didn’t have any luck on their end.
However, some bad luck is self-inflicted, and when you don’t make in-game adjustments outside of throwing in one of your best defenders for just the last possession, you’re asking for problems. Tom Thibodeau will also surely dive into his team’s struggles to generate better offense late in Game 1.
Knicks fans had every right to hang their heads leaving the Garden and turning off their TVs after Game 1. But questionable coaching, some bad luck, and lackluster star play only dealing the Knicks a two-point loss should be reason to look optimistically at the series going forward.
New York should be able to turn a couple of those things around, and if they do, they’ll find themselves back in the driver’s seat.