New York Knicks Playoffs: Atlanta Hawks Season in Review

Julius Randle, New York Knicks. Mandatory Credit: Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports
Julius Randle, New York Knicks. Mandatory Credit: Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports /

The New York Knicks will take on the Atlanta Hawks in the first round of the 2021 NBA playoffs.

The Knicks and Hawks finished the regular season with identical 41-31 records but took distinctly different paths to get there.

The Knicks are a gritty, defensive-minded team that wildly over-performed expectations all year while the Hawks are a flashy, high-scoring bunch that underperformed their preseason hype through the first half of the season.

The Hawks’ pre-All-Star-break play was so disappointing, in fact, that the team fired Head Coach Lloyd Pierce after a 14-20 start and replaced him with Hawks assistant and longtime NBA coach Nate McMillan.

Up to that point, Atlanta scored plenty but struggled mightily on the defensive end.

From the season tip-off until Pierce’s firing in late February, the Hawks had the 6th worst defensive rating in the league at 114.8.

The New York Knicks face the Atlanta Hawks in Round 1 of the playoffs

Compounding problems were the injuries and otherwise general underperformance from some of the key offseason signings, such as Danilo Gallinari, Bogdan Bogdanovic (injuries), and Rajon Rondo (underperformance).

The Hawks seemed to be experiencing a season from hell, and doubters of Trae Young’s ability to lead a franchise felt vindicated.

But then Nate McMillan came in and improved both Atlanta’s offense and defense, and the team immediately embarked on an eight game winning streak after Pierce’s firing.

The Hawks would finish the year at 27-11 under McMillan, enough to boost them up the Eastern Conference standings and into the 5th slot.

Trae Young did his usual thing during the second half bounce back, leading the way with 24 points and 9.4 assists a game on an expectedly high and not super efficient shooting volume, but there were several stand-out performers to note.

Figuring out how to matchup against Trae will be a primary focus of the Knicks’.

Bogdan Bogdanovic was scorching hot throughout March, April, and May, shooting 46% from 3 on 8 attempts per game.

His 18 points per game during that stretch was good for second on the team behind Young; he will be a terrifying player to watch during the Knicks series and could prove decisive either way.

Clint Capella enjoyed a bit of a career resurgence after a down year or two and averaged 15.5 points, 14.6 rebounds during the team’s hot second half.

Several others averaged double digit scoring, those being John Collins, Danilo Gallinari, Kevin Huerter, and Lou Williams (traded for Rondo in late March).

The Knicks played the Hawks three times this season and went 3-0, but two of those games took place during the Lloyd Pierce era and Trae Young exited the third game early with an ankle injury.

The Knicks will look to get off to a flying start against the Hawks at MSG for game one of the playoffs this Sunday.

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