Even though the big-picture goal for any team starting a playoff series on the road is to draw a split in the first two games, the Atlanta Hawks left New York on Wednesday night looking as if they might have left a serious opportunity on the table by letting Game 2 slip away. Overall, the Knicks brought a ton of physicality in the second half of Game 2, and it seemed as if they might have thrown something at Atlanta that they would struggle to counter.
However, the home court seemed to be just what the Hawks needed in Game 3 to keep their footing each time a bit of adversity appeared to be creeping into the game flow. Atlanta kept the New York offense off-balance with stout play on the interior defensively and had as good of a shooting performance as a team could hope for on the other end in what became a 105-94 victory.
The Hawks now lead the series two games to one, and Atlanta will have an opportunity to really put the Knicks on the ropes when Game 4 arrives on Sunday afternoon.
New York kept Atlanta off of the rim in Game 2, limiting the Hawks to just 28 points in the paint while opting to allow Atlanta to generate reasonably good looks from the three-point line. That worked out on Wednesday, but after the first quarter of play on Friday evening, the Hawks converted 12 of 18 from the three-point line to punish the defensive tactic.
As to set the table for the perimeter shots, Atlanta forced the issue in the first quarter generating seven shots at the rim and fourteen in the paint that created space and positioned them to take advantage the rest of the way.
For New York, Julius Randle continued to struggle shooting the basketball. He was just 2-of-15 on field goal attempts in the game, his ugliest offensive performance in the series so far.
Derrick Rose continued to drive the offense for the Knicks. As a result, Hawks interim head coach Nate McMillan opted to match up De’Andre Hunter with Rose to start the third quarter. Hunter had been the primary Randle defender in the series so far.
New York had a successful third quarter (28 points) but the Hawks made Rose work hard for his four shot attempts. And the Knicks were never able to cut into the Atlanta lead.
Randle saw more John Collins on him as a result and the outcome was positive.
“I thought he did a really nice job on Randle guarding him,” said McMillan about the play of his starting power forward. “He was in foul trouble our last game. He picked up two fouls early in the first quarter. Then he settled down and did a solid job of just keeping the ball in front. And being able to stay out on the floor.”
Rose had another impressive offensive game, but it seemed he had to work harder for it in this contest. Potentially as a result, he didn’t have as much to give on the defensive end of the court. He was a game worst -16 in the box score and his defense contributed to a decent amount of that.
Hawks fans know about the impact of a singular offensive workload on a point guard and how that can impact play on the other end. Prior to Atlanta improving the roster this season, Trae Young had to do a significant amount of work for the team offensively and it was a consistent struggle for him on defense.
Now Young has help, and that mattered a lot in this game.
The Knicks threw more at Young in the half court in this game and challenged him to work through his teammates as to produce offense. The third-year guard had 14 assists and kept the offense moving just enough the help Atlanta maintain a safe margin down the stretch.
“Trae has been doing that all season long,” said McMillan about the play of his point guard. “His ability to create offense not only for himself but for his teammates. He’s pretty much the first option on a lot of our sets. I thought he did a nice job tonight not only creating opportunities and forcing their defense to collapse but he kicked the ball out tonight. And we made some shots.”
“It felt like as the game was going they were trying to take my scoring out of the game and blitzing more,” explained Young. “And being a little bit more aggressive on me. I’ve just got to find ways to score. Whether it’s me getting downhill and scoring or finding the open man. Tonight, I needed to find the open man because they were being so aggressive.”
From the conversation after the game, it seemed the home crowd made a difference. Atlanta played in front of, essentially, a full arena for the first time in an eternity.
“It was important for us to come out at home and get this win,” said starting center Clint Capela. “Especially the first game with the fans, it was electric. They came out and we had to show out with this win.”
“This is my first experience at home in the playoffs,” shared Young. “And I’m looking forward to having a lot more of these. Because it’s so much fun and so much buzz in the building. A lot of energy. And you can see that the fans wanted that just as much as we did. It was great to see.”
Down the stretch, the Atlanta offense sputtered a bit. They managed just 19 points in the final period and it seems the crowd helped them maintain their energy on the defensive end of the court as to help them keep things under control.
In the stat book, the Hawks had seven players score in double figures including all five starters. Young led all Atlanta scorers with 21 points.
Bogdan Bogdanovic had 15 points despite a bit of a slow start shooting the ball. He also had eight rebounds which helped especially when Capela was off of the court.
After going scoreless in Game 2, Collins had 14 points and six rebounds. He was steady on defense and helped put the game away late with two lobs to Capela when New York was scrambling defensively as to try to force turnovers.
Capela posted 13 points, 12 rebounds and two blocked shots. After a fourth quarter rejection of a Randle shot attempt, he broke out the famed Dikembe Mutombo finger wag and the crowd ate it up.
In addition to being a key defensive contributor, Hunter had 11 points and five rebounds. It’s noteworthy the Hawks played through him as a creator early in the third quarter. Perhaps it was a tactic to counter all of the defensive attention New York was throwing at Young.
On the second unit, Danilo Gallinari had 12 points and connected each of his four attempts from the arc. Kevin Huerter had ten points. Each of his three makes from distance came when they were most needed.
Lou Williams had nine points and provided visible leadership during moments of potential adversity. New York took 30 free throw attempts as compared to just eight for the Hawks. When some of Atlanta’s young players were becoming visibly frustrated, the veteran point guard kept them cool.
Rose led all scorers for the visiting team with 30 points. He also had six rebounds and five assists.
Randle used an eight for eight performance at the free throw line to produce 14 points to go with 11 rebounds.
Nerlens Noel added 12 points, eight rebounds and three steals while Reggie Bullock scored 11 points to go along with five boards.
Let’s take a look at some of the action.
On Atlanta’s first possession, it was evident that they wanted to bring a little physicality of their own in the game:
Hunter delivers a firm screen on Randle as Collins lifts to work in the pick and roll with Young. This allows the Atlanta duo to attack the Knicks defense before they can throw a second defender at Young.
It’s a great play design to strategically generate a shot attempt at the rim to get started.
Atlanta’s intent to be stronger at the point of attack defensively was also visible in the early going:
Hunter provides significant resistance as RJ Barrett tries to create something going toward the basket.
Notice how many bodies the Hawks have oriented to the paint as Randle tries to attack early in the shot clock:
It was clear they wanted to work as a defensive unit to compel Randle to take jump shots.
This might look familiar:
It’s basically the same set up from the game winner on Sunday. Bogdanovic is in the right corner and Young finds a crease to his right for the score.
The Knicks generate points at the rim on this possession:
This is noteworthy because New York is not very strategic on offense, especially in the form of trying to attack an individual defender.
This might have been the first time in the series they were able to force Young to act as the helper at the rim. Collins recognizes the vulnerability and tries to get to the paint and offer additional help but he’s not able to get there in time.
This possession offers a look at the reason Atlanta was able to generate better perimeter shots in Game 3:
Gallinari uses dribble penetration to collapse the New York defense and creates a kick out to Huerter for the wide open look from the corner.
Atlanta’s excellent defensive activity can be seen on this play:
The Huerter block on Rose leads to a scramble and an eventual 24-second violation.
The Knicks use an Atlanta offensive staple to start the second period:
It’s disguised as “Spain” pick and roll. The Hawks defend it wel, but Alec Burks makes a contests shot for the bucket.
Another drive and kick three:
This time, Gallinari is the recipient.
Good activity on this possession produces another easy shot at the rim:
Atlanta really missed Hunter’s on-ball defense when he was out with injury:
That’s just excellent individual defense in space.
Here we see the Hawks allowing Hunter to work as the initiator early in the third quarter.
His ability to shoot over multiple defenders in traffic is a unique challenge for opposing defenses.
Young was off ball a good bit in the third quarter:
Bogdanovic takes advantage of some slippery defense from Rose and Noel to get a shot at the rim himself.
For most of Game 2 and even into the first part of Game 3, the physicality of the Knicks defenders really seemed to be bothering Bogdanovic. But this is where it looked, to me, like he turned the corner in that regard:
This is “floppy” action designed to get an opportunity for him to work on the left side of the offensive half court. He takes the ball right into the middle and gets a shot to go.
I thought this was really encouraging.
Huerter’s confidence has been growing. He was good on both ends in this game.
Here, he uses high pick and roll to relocate to the three point line and knocks down an off the dribble three:
Capela just never stops working hard.
The Hawks fail to contain the weak side here:
Be careful talking about this, but this is why some coaches don’t like mixing in new lineups in the postseason.
As New York tries to make one last push, the Hawks look tired:
But this absurd delivery from Young to Bogdanovic allows them to extend the lead back to 15 points:
Capela seals it in fun fashion:
Game 4 will take place at State Farm Arena on Sunday. Tip is scheduled for 1:00 pm ET.
With another win at home, the Hawks could take a commanding 3-1 lead in the series.
Will the Knicks be able to find something new to throw at Atlanta? Will Young control the game for his team?
It should be fun.