For 47 minutes 59.1 seconds, the followers at Madison Sq. Backyard ranged from raucous to delirious, because the Knicks — their Knicks — had been locked in a dogfight on Sunday evening towards the Atlanta Hawks within the New York group’s first N.B.A. playoff sport since 2013.
And with nine-10ths of a second remaining, Trae Younger, the Hawks’ star guard, was capable of get round Frank Ntilikina, a guard ostensibly recognized for his protection, and hit a game-winning floater.
Younger then added insult to damage through the use of his finger to shush the group, portion of which had been sending profane chants his approach for a lot of the sport, a 107-105 Hawks win.
“I’ve at all times checked out it as I’m doing one thing proper if I’m offending them with my play that a lot,” Younger informed reporters after the sport, including: “Simply obtained to let my play do the speaking as a result of on the finish of the day, followers can solely discuss. They’ll’t guard me.”
Neither might the Knicks in Recreation 1 of this best-of-seven first-round sequence. An unfazed Younger repeatedly took the air out of the constructing as he took over within the fourth quarter. It wasn’t simply the sport winner. It was the 2 free throws with 28 seconds left. One other floater with lower than two minutes left, in addition to a free throw. Younger scored 13 of his 32 factors within the fourth quarter, deftly casting apart the howling residence followers and the haymakers the Knicks saved throwing the Hawks’ approach in a back-and-forth thriller. All 9 of Younger’s free throws got here within the closing quarter, as did three of his 10 assists.
The Knicks tried valiantly to maintain Younger contained in pick-and-rolls. It didn’t work, as Younger used his greatest weapon — the floater — to frustrate a lot taller facilities.
“He’s an amazing participant,” Tom Thibodeau, the Knicks’ coach, mentioned. “We’ll check out the movie. You’re not going to have the ability to stick with a gradual food regimen of something, so clearly we’ve to do a greater job.”
Sunday’s sport had the entire hallmarks of the traditional Knicks playoff video games that N.B.A. audiences had been accustomed to within the Nineties. (Earlier than tipoff, Thibodeau, who was an assistant coach for the Knicks then, recalled that he had by no means heard a constructing as loud as Madison Sq. Backyard was when Larry Johnson hit a game-tying 3 towards the Indiana Pacers in Recreation 3 of the 1999 Jap Convention finals — some of the well-known pictures in Knicks historical past.)
Recreation 1 was low scoring and defensively oriented, very similar to the Knicks earlier than the millennium. Offended followers chanted profanities at an opposing group’s greatest participant (and the referees). Those self same ones screamed so loudly that the public-address announcer couldn’t be heard after RJ Barrett’s fast-break dunk over Bogdan Bogdanovic within the third quarter despatched the group of 15,047 right into a frenzy.
An exuberant Spike Lee berated the referees and embraced Knicks gamers from the sideline. Different celebrities, like Tracy Morgan, Jon Stewart and Rachel Brosnahan, sat courtside to help in efforts to rattle the Hawks. Christopher Jackson, the Broadway star, sang the nationwide anthem. David Guetta, the French D.J., carried out at halftime.
The playoff opener was a reminder that at its greatest, the Knicks basketball expertise is as a lot a cultural occasion in New York as it’s a basketball one. (To that finish, Andrew Yang, one of many main candidates for mayor of New York Metropolis, posted a video of himself on Twitter shaking fingers with attendees outdoors the world earlier than the sport. He has apparently gotten over his earlier disavowal of the franchise, which had also been posted on Twitter.)
The competition had every little thing Knicks followers might need aside from a win. However this was the form of sport that had some vital outliers, making it troublesome to challenge the remainder of the sequence. For one factor, whereas Younger, an All-Star, got here by way of for the Hawks, the Knicks’ All-Star didn’t. Julius Randle, going through a gradual rush of double groups, shot 6 of 23 from the sphere for 15 factors. He dominated the Hawks in the course of the common season, however he couldn’t get his jumpers to fall on Sunday.
“Hear, I’m not making no excuses,” Randle mentioned. “I’ve obtained to be higher, and I might be higher. I’ll simply depart it at that.”
The Knicks had been some of the correct 3-point-shooting groups within the league in the course of the common season. On Sunday, they had been 10 for 30 from deep — 33 p.c, far below their season average of 39 percent.
The Knicks stayed within the sport principally due to the play of the reserves, significantly Alec Burks, who led the group with 27 factors off the bench. Derrick Rose had 17 factors and Immanuel Quickley added 10, together with two momentum-shifting 3s.
A slight bounce right here or a pleasant foul name that doesn’t go Younger’s approach, and this dialogue is approach totally different. It will be concerning the Knicks returning to playoff glory and the big variety of metropolis residents who out of the blue needed to — wink, wink — name out sick on Monday. It will be about how the Knicks beat the Hawks regardless of their greatest gamers not taking part in properly, and the way properly that bodes in a sequence during which the Knicks have home-court benefit.
However the Hawks pulled it out. And so they’re one sport nearer to a sequence win than the Knicks are.
Nonetheless, there’s loads of purpose for optimism for the Knicks heading into Recreation 2 on Wednesday evening on the Backyard. Randle confirmed himself to be too good a participant this season, significantly towards Atlanta, to have a repeat of Sunday’s sport. By the legislation of averages, extra of these 3s that the Knicks missed will begin stepping into. The supporting solid confirmed it was able to taking a few of the load off Randle. And the group was 25-11 at residence within the common season.
The unsolvable difficulty could also be Younger, one of many few gamers who can damage a group from wherever on the courtroom. When the Knicks performed up on him, he drove round them. Once they gave him room to function, he obtained off his floater or discovered Hawks teammates for dunks. The reply could also be to pack the paint and encourage him to shoot extra from 3-point vary, the place he was a 34.3 p.c shooter in the course of the common season, or to ship extra traps at him to pressure the ball out of his fingers.
Regardless that Ntilikina was burned on Younger’s sport winner, he might get extra time if Younger continues to abuse the guards who had issue with him, just like the beginning guard Elfrid Payton, who continued to be ineffective.
The one fixed for Recreation 2 is that Knicks followers might be out in pressure. Lee might be there screaming, and hundreds of others will match him word for word. As Rose mentioned concerning the opener, the followers gave the group “every little thing that we anticipated and doubtless a bit bit extra.”