Knicks - Hawks Instant Preview: How No. 4 and No. 5 seeds match up in NBA playoffs

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
·3 min read
In this article:
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
Julius Randle, RJ Barrett, Immanuel Quickley, and Tom Thibodeau treated image
Julius Randle, RJ Barrett, Immanuel Quickley, and Tom Thibodeau treated image

The Knicks survived against the Boston Celtics on Sunday to clinch the No. 4 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs.

They will face the Atlanta Hawks in the first round and will have home-court in that series.

Here are few things to know about Atlanta:

Since Nate McMillan took over as head coach, Atlanta has been one of the top teams in the East. The Hawks finished the season at 27-11 under McMillan -- the highest win total in the conference in that span.

They had the No. 8 offense in the league under McMillan (entering Sunday’s games). And they had the No. 8 net rating and No. 8 team field-goal percentage since McMillan took over.

They also won 19 of their last 21 at home. The Knicks have obviously also been red hot. They finished the season winning 16 of their final 20 games. Entering Sunday, Atlanta ranked No. 3 in three-point shooting since McMillan took over -- the Knicks have the No. 2 three-point percentage in that span.

Obviously, Trae Young has been a driving force behind Atlanta’s resurgence. Young is averaging 9.5 assists since McMillan took over. He’s also shooting 45 percent from the floor.

New York Knicks forward Julius Randle (30) celebrates with guard RJ Barrett (9) during the fourth quarter against the Dallas Mavericks at American Airlines Center.
New York Knicks forward Julius Randle (30) celebrates with guard RJ Barrett (9) during the fourth quarter against the Dallas Mavericks at American Airlines Center.

As noted above, the Hawks’ perimeter shooting has been strong since McMillan took over. Danilo Gallinari is hitting 46 percent of his three-point attempts and Bogdan Bogdanovic is hitting 45.5 percent of his threes. John Collins is at 40 percent and Lou Williams is hitting 44.4 percent of his attempts since being traded to the Hawks.

So the Knicks’ defense -- which has been strong all season -- will be tested against the Hawks.

But the Hawks’ defense in the regular season has been below average. Even after McMillan took over, Atlanta ranked No. 16 in defensive efficiency.

If you believe the Knicks’ defense will be solid all series and their success hinges on their offense, this will make you feel optimistic.

It will be interesting to see how New York defends Young. Starting point guard Elfrid Payton averaged 17 minutes per game (scoring six points on 44 percent shooting) in the final 20 games of the regular season. The Knicks have been outscored by 41 points with Payton on the floor in that span, per NBA.com. They’ve outscored opponents by 165 points when Payton isn’t on the court in that span.

But they also won 16 of those 20 games. That’s why I would be a bit surprised if Thibodeau elected to make a lineup change by benching Payton ahead of the playoffs. Maybe there is an adjustment during the series. It’s worth noting that Thibodeau is confident in Frank Ntilikina’s ability to defend. So maybe Thibodeau turns to Ntilikina for stretches to try and slow Young down.

“He's a lot to deal with when he's playing free,” Derrick Rose said Sunday. “We've got to make sure we always have bodies around him and contest all of his shots and just make it hard on not only him but his entire team.”

Atlanta will certainly key on Julius Randle. (Will De’Andre Hunter guard Randle?) It will be interesting to see which other Knicks -- RJ Barrett, Rose, Reggie Bullock, Alec Burks -- complement Randle on offense throughout the series.