In what was being hyped as the biggest indoor event in New York since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, the Knicks welcomed 15,000 fans back into the friendly confines of “The Garden” for their Game 1 matchup with the Atlanta Hawks.
The ending wasn’t as Knicks fans hoped as Atlanta Hawks sharpshooter Trae Young hit a game-winning shot in the closing seconds to lift ATL to a 107-105 win and squash a tremendous Knicks effort, sending Spike Lee home stunned and hurting.
He was having Reggie Miller flashbacks for sure cause Young offset great performances by Derrick Rose (17 points) and Alec Burks (27 points) with 32 points of his own, none bigger than his game-grabber.
For a long time — like back when Tom Thibodeau was an assistant coach with the Knicks back in the late 1990s — playoff games were a routine part of spring in New York.
Now after seven silent seasons, they’re back and facing a team similar to them in the Atlanta Hawks. Both are young, gritty and fairly inexperienced in the postseason. Both coaches, Thibs and Hawks coach Nate McMillan, are regulars in the postseason as coaches and.
McMillan was a regular in the playoffs as a member of the now-defunct Seattle SuperSonics in his day. On Sunday night, he won a tightly-contested coaching duel. But this series is just heating up.
“We know what basketball means to the city and so hopefully we can give them something to be proud of, Thibodeau said. “We’ve got a special group of guys who’ve worked hard all year long to put us in this position and we welcome the challenge.”
All-Star Julius Randle missed a game-winning shot as time expired and had a subpar game with 15 points and just 4 boards, but he led the Knicks to a 41-31 finish in the franchise’s first season under Tom Thibodeau.
Atlanta interim coach Nate McMillan was fined $25,000 earlier this week for his comments that the league wanted to see the Knicks be successful again. He did clarify that he wasn’t suggesting any bias from the league during this series, and said his players are excited about the atmosphere they’ll face in NYC.
“These guys want to play in front of fans,” he said. “I know it’s gonna be a tough place to play, but we’re looking forward to the challenge.”
The Knicks began the season without fans and began allowing 10% capacity on Feb.23. Capacity attendance for this series is set at 15,000 and that’s a huge lift for the young upstart Knicks.
Games 1 and 2 are sold out and they’re expecting fully vaccinated fans to make up 90% of the crowd.
Spike Lee’s return to his rightful floor seat was exciting to see.
Seeing the look on his face after Trae Young daggered the city is all too familiar.
Stole a Game 1 playoff win from the Knicks 👊🏾
Got Spike Lee looking crazy pic.twitter.com/vf1LMjy7ry
— The Shadow League (@ShadowLeague) May 24, 2021
The encouraging news for Knicks fans is that there are six games left in the series, so expect this clash between two teams seeking a breakthrough in the playoffs to solidify a year of progression to be closely contested