It wasn't always pretty, but the Atlanta Hawks have advanced to the second round of the playoffs for the first time since 2016. They clinched their spot on Wednesday night by beating the New York Knicks, 103-89 in Game 5 to win their first-round series, 4-1.
Trae Young wasn't at his best in this one, but he still finished with 36 points and nine assists to lead the way as per usual. Clint Capela, meanwhile, kept up his strong play by going for 14 points, 15 rebounds and two blocks. His defensive presence in the paint proved crucial both in this game and throughout the series. The Hawks will now face the No. 1 seed in the East, the Philadelphia 76ers, who moved past the Washington Wizards on Wednesday, but could be without Joel Embiid due to a torn meniscus.
The Knicks had a great run this season, as they made the playoffs for the first time since 2013. But they succeeded through defense and effort, and were always a little bit short on talent and scoring. Those factors were magnified in the playoffs, as the Hawks shut down Julius Randle, and the Knicks had no response. Game 5 was another brutal offensive showing, as the Knicks shot 31 of 82 from the field and turned the ball over 16 times.
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Here are some key takeaways from the game:
Hawks win first playoff series in five years
The last time the Hawks were in the second round, they were led by Al Horford and Paul Millsap, and Mike Budenholzer was the head coach. That was only five years ago, but it might as well have been 20. They have a completely different roster and coaching staff, and a brand new direction.
Now, they're built around Trae Young, and the young point guard proved in this series that he's up to the challenge of leading a team in the playoffs. While he had some rough stretches in Game 5, he still put up 36 points and nine assists to close out the Knicks on the road. That's nothing to scoff at, even if he wasn't at his most efficient.
With the Knicks in the rearview mirror, the Hawks can now turn their attention to the Sixers. Atlanta is going to be the underdog, but just how big of one depends on Joel Embiid's status. The big man suffered a partially torn meniscus earlier this week, and is officially listed as day-to-day. He didn't play in Game 5 for the Sixers, however, and it's unclear when he'll be back on the court, or how effective he'll be once he does suit up. If he's well under 100 percent, the Hawks' chances of pulling an upset are much higher.
Capela makes his presence felt
At the trade deadline last season, the Houston Rockets traded an injured Capela to the Hawks in what was largely a salary dump. Then, a month later, the season shut down, and the Hawks weren't invited to the season restart in the bubble. As a result, Capela went nearly an entire year without playing a game.
It might have been easy for casual fans to forget about him in that time, especially since he's not exactly the biggest name or a huge scorer. But as he got back on the court this season, he showed he can still play. And in the first round against the Knicks, he did it on the big stage.
In the series-clinching Game 5 on Wednesday, Capela put up 14 points, 14 rebounds and two blocks in the type of performance that exemplified his impact. With his rim-running skills, he's the perfect partner for Trae Young in the pick-and-roll, and on the other end of the floor he's a serious presence in the paint. The Knicks couldn't get anything going at the rim because Capela was always there to block or alter their shots.
Over the five games, the Hawks' net rating with Capela on the court was plus-17.6 points per 100 possessions. When he sat, it was minus-17.1. As they move on to face the Sixers, the Hawks are going to need another big series from Capela, especially if Embiid is able to play.
Knicks' run comes to an end
The Knicks were one of the best stories of the season, as they soared past expectations to make the playoffs for the first time since 2013. And they didn't just sneak in either. They finished 41-31 to earn the No. 4 seed in the East, and home-court advantage in the first round.
In his first season with the club, Tom Thibodeau helped the Knicks build the league's best defense, and imparted his hard-working, no-nonsense style. Julius Randle, meanwhile, showed off the hard work he had put in over an extended offseason, and won Most Improved Player as he set numerous career highs.
Unfortunately, it fell apart once they got into the playoffs. Their defense was still solid overall, but when they really needed a stop they had no answer for Trae Young. And on the other end of the floor, they had no idea what to do when Randle's driving lanes were cut off. It's hard to win when your best player is limited to 18 points per game on 29.7 percent shooting.
But even though it all came crashing down in somewhat embarrassing fashion, this was still a positive season for the Knicks. They had Madison Square Garden rocking, made the playoffs for the first time in nearly a decade and, most importantly, restored their standing in the league.