New York Knicks vs. Atlanta Hawks: 3 matchups that will decide the series

Trae Young, New York Knicks, Atlanta Hawks. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
Trae Young, New York Knicks, Atlanta Hawks. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports /
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New York Knicks vs. Atlanta Hawks: Is there any way to slow down Julius Randle?

I recently put out an article about just how hard it has been for the Hawks to contain Julius Randle this season. Multiple 40-point games on ridiculous efficiency, the Atlanta Hawks are straight-up just not well equipped to defend Julius Randle.

The biggest caveat here is that they only had DeAndre Hunter for 1 of their matchups this season, who is easily Atlanta’s best perimeter defender. Considering how badly John Collins has gotten burned by Randle, I’d expect McMillan to try and get Hunter matched up with Randle right out of the gate.

Still, it’s not that simple. Thibodeau and his team will pretty easily use some simple rubs and picks to get Randle into some mismatches in his favorite spots.

In a funny way, there is a similar concept here to what I just discussed about Trae Young and his ability to make difficult passes that can break double teams and defensive pressure.

The New York Knicks have built their offense around Randle making those same passes. They’re just coming from the low post and elbow as opposed to out of a pick & roll.

Randle can find the creases in the defense where his outside shooters are peaking out. Barrett, Burks, Quickley, Rose, and Bullock – they will make anyone who is just a step slow to rotate pay for their transgressions (Clyde Frazier voice).

Can Hunter slow down Randle’s scoring? Maybe.

Can John Collins effectively track Reggie Bullock around screens? Can Trae Young and Bogdanović do anything defensively to keep pace with Derrick Rose and RJ Barrett? I’m not so sure.

It’s going to get dicey for the Atlanta Hawks, who have been prone to defensive lapses.

Julius Randle and his New York Knicks have played physical basketball since December 2020. They’re going to be well-prepared for the tighter whistles of the playoffs.

So while the Hawks backcourt and Julius Randle have been the engines of offense, playoff basketball is frequently decided by scrappy plays.

Not just Trae Young step-back threes or Randle baseline fadeaways, but sometimes the lesser-remembered rebound or turnover will decide the game or a series.

There is another matchup that may not get the headlines, but could be a deciding factor in this series.