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Hawks eliminate Knicks behind another big game from Trae Young

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NEW YORK — Over the course of an average NBA playoff series, the inevitable will happen: Fans get rowdy, players get physical, the complaints about the officiating get more pronounced and the occasional pre- and post-game sound bite, whether provoked or not, will get the attention of opponents.

The Eastern Conference first round tilt between the New York Knicks and Atlanta Hawks was no different, and then it grew with surprising hatred between the two franchises without the longstanding histories as most rivalries.

It started in Game 1, when Trae Young’s game-winning floater with less than a second on the clock made him Knicks fans' newest target to blame. That led to Young being subjected to profane chants in Game 2 and being spit on, which led to a fan’s permanent expulsion from Madison Square Garden.

Enter Hawks center Clint Capela, who proclaimed the Knicks were on the verge of booking vacations to Cancun after two dominate wins in Atlanta to go up 3-1.

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"(The Knicks) trying to play tough, push our guys around and talk (expletive), but we can do that too," Capela said. "We can push guys around too, we can talk (expletive) as well, so what you gonna do about it? And we can get a win with it, so what you gonna do about it?"

After hearing that retort, Knicks guard R.J. Barrett said, "We're winning tonight."

Capela and the Hawks made sure the Knicks’ travel plans happened sooner than later.

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Young scored 36 points and dished out nine assists, De'Andre Hunter had 15 points and Capela added 14 points and 15 rebounds as the Hawks eliminated the Knicks 103-89 in Game 5 of their Eastern Conference first-round matchup.

The Hawks move on the conference semifinals where they will take on the top-seeded Philadelphia 76ers, who dispatched the Washington Wizards in Game 5 of their opening series Wednesday. Game 1 is Sunday in Philadelphia.

Julius Randle, the NBA’s Most Improved Player, had 23 points and 13 rebounds for New York, which turned in another terrible shooting performance, hitting just 37.8% of its shots. Randle hit only 29.8% from the field for the series. Barrett, the team’s second-leading scorer, added 17 points and grabbed seven rebounds.

Atlanta fared no better with its outside shooting, making just 9-of-33 from downtown, but used the strong inside game of Capela and Young driving the lane at will to account for 44 points in the paint.

The physical play that started in Atlanta continued after Taj Gibson was assessed a flagrant foul on Hunter in the second quarter, and players were separated at halftime after Nerlens Noel and Solomon Hill ran into each other as teams headed for the locker room.

Trae Young averaged 29.2 points in his first career playoff series.
Trae Young averaged 29.2 points in his first career playoff series.

The third quarter proved fatal for New York, which trailed as many as 16 after Onyeka Okongwu’s tip-in. Atlanta increased the lead to 19 in the fourth quarter on Hunter's 3-pointer from the corner with 5:43 left that sent many of the raucous Madison Square Garden faithful towards the exits.

The final insult for the Knicks came from Young, who tormented them all series, when he heaved a 32-footer from the top of the key with 43 seconds left and hit nothing by nylon. Young took a celebratory bow to invoke another chorus of boos from the fans that were still left in the building.

"I know where we are," Young said the game. "I know there are a lot of shows in this city and I know what they do when the show is over."

The Hawks' turnaround was nothing short of remarkable. On March 1, Atlanta was 14-20 and sat in 11th place in the East, leading to the firing of coach Lloyd Pierce. Assistant Nate McMillan took over and saw immediate results, finishing with a 27-11 mark to move Atlanta all the way to the fifth seed.

Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said he was proud of the foundation the organization is building, but the plans for the summer will start after the team gets away from basketball for a few weeks.

"Disappointed with the result tonight, our guys gave us everything they had all year long," Thibodeau said. "There is learning that goes along with it. This is a big part of learning."

Thibodeau had nothing but praise for Young, who averaged 29.2 points and 9.8 assists in the series.

"He’s clever, he’s very good with the ball," Thibodeau said. "He has grown this year and he’s a terrific talent. They added some good pieces to help him out."

The Knicks surprised many league pundits who had them finishing towards the bottom of the Eastern Conference. Thibodeau brought his defensive-minded toughness to a team sorely in need of an identity and excitement back in the basketball-crazy city, especially after a 21-45 record during the pandemic-shortened 2019-20 season.

The Knicks allowed the fewest points per game in the regular season, but they also found it a struggle to put the ball in the basket. New York shot over 40% only twice in the series.

They also have some decisions to make in terms of the roster. Derrick Rose, who scored only six points in Game 5, is an unrestricted free agent, as well as starters Nerlens Noel and Reggie Bullock. Randle has one year left on his deal before he can hit the market after the 2021-22 campaign.

Follow Scooby Axson on Twitter @ScoobAxson.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Hawks eliminate Knicks from NBA playoffs behind Trae Young