The New York Knicks had a rough go of it against the Atlanta Hawks.
The Knicks’ first playoff series in eight years began with so much promise. They were taking on a team they’d owned in the regular season and the first two games at MSG were among the most competitive of the NBA playoffs so far. This was a team we’d watched play with tenacity and confidence all year and there was every reason to think could take four games from the Hawks.
It is no great revelation that it all fell apart when the Knicks traveled to Atlanta for game 3. Every weakness imaginable was exposed, including some the team didn’t even know they had, especially on offense. On-ball possessions were a hellish adventure — there never seemed to be any cohesion nor a concrete plan. Only Derrick Rose was able to consistently attack the basket on iso drives, but even then it was at the expense of playmaking for teammates.
It’s particularly frustrating that the Knicks struggled so mightily to score when you consider that the series was played at a slow, Thibs friendly pace and that the Hawks only averaged 104 points per game for the series— a modest, beatable average in the modern NBA. Atlanta shot 44 percent from the field over the five games, a decent average but hardly otherworldly. Moreover, the Knicks actually out-rebounded the Hawks 232-221 and shot 13 more free throws; that latter number a startling surprise considering that refs seemed to send Trae Young to the line every time down the floor.
The problem was that the New York Knicks couldn’t make a shot from the field.
The Hawks deserve some credit for New York’s offensive struggles. Clint Capela in particular dominated on defense, locking down the paint and protecting the rim throughout all five games. The team as a whole was well disciplined and allowed nothing easy.
It is not, however, like the Hawks are a defensive juggernaut. They were middle of the pack in defensive rating after McMillan took over — 15th — just ahead of lottery teams like the Pistons and Hornets, who were tied at 16th. A smart, quality offensive team should be able to consistently score on Atlanta, especially considering Trae Young’s liabilities on defense. That the Knicks were not able to exploit Trae in switches and screen-and-rolls was perhaps the most inexcusable development of the series.
The Knicks’ overall ceiling will be limited to quick first round playoff exits unless changes are made. We know that the Thibs-era Knicks will always bring it on defense; the focus for Leon Rose and the front office this summer will have to be on offense.
What follows are urgent three Knicks offseason needs that were exposed by the playoff loss to the Atlanta Hawks.