It’s Over. Atlanta Wins Playoff Series with 103-89 Victory. 5 Reasons Why

It’s over. Atlanta thoroughly beat the Knicks in game 5, 103-89, at Madison Square Garden to take the 1st-round playoff series 4 games to 1.

The Knicks took small leads at times in the 1st half, but couldn’t stay with Atlanta, who enforced their will in the 2nd half — taking a double digit lead and maintaining it throughout the 4th — ballooning it to 19 points at times. Trae Young got a lot of calls, going to the line 15 times, which didn’t help. The Knicks as a team only went to the line 18 times (Julius Randle 4 times). But it was Atlanta’s Defense and interior presence that really won the day.


1. Atlanta’s Interior Defense

Atlanta’s Defense — particularly their interior Defense anchored by Clint Capela with John Collins by his side — stymied the Knicks. New York could not get easy drives to the hoop throughout the series — which took away the penetrate-pass-pass offense that coach Tom Thibodeau employs.

Derrick Rose was dampened — 3-11 shooting for 6 points, which caused the Knick offense to mainly go thru Julius Randle, whom Atlanta doubled. Randle tried hard — too hard at times — causing 8 turnovers.

The Knicks were also hurt on the boards — although in the end Atlanta only enjoyed a 48-45 rebounding advantage. Taj Gibson did his best — 10 rebounds in 33 minutes, and Nerlens Noel played better — more recovered from his sprained ankle — but got 5 personal fouls and only played 16 minutes.

The Knicks could have REALLY used Mitchell Robinson in this series. Capela’s height advantage and shotblocking/rebounding capabilities really won the day for Atlanta. Capela had 15 rebounds, 2 blocks, and 14 pts on 6-7 shooting in this game.

2. McMillan Turned Atlanta Into Defensive Machine

And Atlanta’s defense at the 3 and all over the court caused the Knicks to score only 89 points. Nate McMillan was the worst thing to happen to the Knicks this year — taking over as coach in Atlanta midway thru the season, and turning them into a defensive juggernaut of a team — matching the Knicks in technique and intensity.

Atlanta has a lot of length too — and that length combined with their defensive practices caused every Knick pass to seem hard to make. That secondary length (besides Capela and Collins) comes from the likes of De’Andre Hunter (6’8 and defensive player of the year in college at Virginia), Onyeka Okongwu (6’8), Solomon Hill (6’8) — and even shooters Kevin Huerter (6’7) and Bogdan Bogdanovic (6’6), and of course Danilo Gallinari (6’8).

3. Knick Defense Did It’s Job

The Knicks defense pressured Atlanta’s 3’s — and even Trae Young did not have a good shooting game — 10-28 shooting (3-11 from 3) but he finished with 36 pts because of free throws (see below).

The Knicks corrected a lot of mistakes made in Game 4 — they guarded the 3 better: Bogdanovic was 1-7 from 3; Huerter was 2-6 from 3; Atlanta shot 9-34 from 3 for 26.5%. And the Knicks stopped Gallinari from scoring on his drives (he was 0-7 from the floor).

Atlanta only scored 103 pts.

4. Young 13-15 from Free Throw Line

Atlanta’s Trae Young got a lot of calls from the refs in the 1st half especially, and that did not help. Atlanta was 20-26 from the free throw line; NY was 15-18.

Young was 13-15 from the free throw line — he was getting to the line on the slightest contact, that he initiated. That by itself makes Atlanta a tough team to beat.

5. NY Couldn’t Get Offense Going Against Atlanta D

The Knicks could just not get their offense going against Atlanta’s D. Immanuel Quickley provided a spark at the start of the 4th quarter — hitting a 3 and getting a steal to pull NY to within 10. But then Trae Young answered and Atlanta came right back.

Obi Toppin looked good and made a nice baseline shot early in the 4th off a Barrett pass, but that was his only bucket — he had 2 pts in 10 minutes on 1-4 shooting.

RJ Barrett was aggressive early and in the 4th, going to the basket and drawing fouls — he had 17 pts on 5-14 (2-6 from 3; 5-6 from the free throw line), 7 rebounds, 5 assists. Barrett made 1-2 free throws with just over 7 minutes left to pull NY to within 11. But then Trae Young hit a 3 down the other end and then he got a foul call and before you knew it Atlanta was up by 16 again.

Alec Burks had 12 pts on 5-10 and a +4.

Reggie Bullock shot well: 4-10 (4-8 from 3) for 12 points.

Randle played well enough — 23 pts on 8-21 shooting (3-9 from 3), 13 rebounds, and 3 assists.

Atlanta’s Defense just won the day (as well as all the calls that Trae Young got).

A Good Year

I predicted 35 wins in 72-game year, knocking on door of playoffs with Thibodeau replacing Mike Miller (who had done a good job last year) as coach — so making the playoffs was no surprise. I figured the Knicks would be a low seed (7th or 8th) so a first-round exit was expected too at start of season.

Thibodeau’s Knicks

But Thibodeau got the Knicks playing a brand of ball that even I didn’t anticipate would be This good — on Defense and also Offense. So it was a disappointment that the 4th seeded Knicks were ousted by the 5th seeded Atlanta, even though Atlanta had the 3rd best record in the NBA after Nate McMillan took over as coach.

And it was disappointing to see Randle struggle, even though Atlanta’s defense targeted him with double and triple teams. Barrett played well — I’d hoped he’d be more of an offensive juggernaut in the playoffs if Randle was being doubled — but again it was Capella at center stifling drives that caused Barrett and others trouble.

And of course as an Elfrid Payton fan it was tough watching him go into a slump at end of season. They could have used his D on Trae Young and penetrations on offense — but he was not his normal self at end of year and will probably not be brought back as a Knick.

Bullock and Burks played great; hopefully they will be with Knicks for a long time. And Nerlens Noel and Gibson were terrific too. Obi Toppin looked real good in the playoffs and Quickley plays with a fire and energy (and is a great shooter) that gives great hope for the future.

The Knicks getting hurt inside by Capella shows the importance that Mitchell Robinson has to this franchise; a good thing if it convinces the Knicks to invest in him long term.

The Boxscore


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