In the early going it looked like the Atlanta Hawks were going to walk out of Madison Square Garden with a 2-0 series lead over the New York Knicks, but a late surge fueled by Reggie Bullock, Julius Randle and Derrick Rose helped the Knicks to a 101-92 win in Game 2 Wednesday night.
The Hawks, led once again by a standout performance by Trae Young, were getting everything they wanted in the first half. De'Andre Hunter and Kevin Huerter were knocking down shots, as each of them finished with 18 points. However, a cold shooting stretch at the end of the game, and a resurgent Knicks offense were the difference maker in this contest.
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The series is all knotted up at one game apiece as it now shifts to Atlanta for Game 3 on Friday at 7 p.m. ET., but before that game, let's examine three takeaways that led to the Knicks win in Game 2.
1. Rose should start going forward
The only reason the Knicks were in a position to take control of the game and eventually win it is because of Derrick Rose's performance. From start to finish, he was the best player on the floor for New York, finishing with 26 points, four assists and four rebounds off the bench in nearly 39 minutes of action, the most of any player on the team. To contrast, starting point guard Elfrid Payton played just five minutes, and finished the game with one point while going 0 for 2 from the field. Rose's 14 first-half points is what kept the Knicks treading water heading into halftime, and it led coach Tom Thibodeau to start him in the second half in favor of Payton.
Similar to how Game 1 went, the Knicks struggled for a majority of the game to get anything going on offense. So having someone like Rose, who can create his own shot, in with the starters proved to be a major key in why New York's offense began to come alive after halftime. He was essentially getting anything he wanted on offense: Shots at the rim, 3-pointers, everything. Rose played the entirety of the third quarter, and for good reason given no other Knicks guard showed they could initiate the offense as well as Rose tonight. It would be a surprise at all to see Thibodeau make a change to the starting lineup for Game 3, especially when you consider Rose's performance and the lack of spark the starting unit has opened both games in this series with.
2. Randle starts to break free
It was another inefficient shooting night for Randle, who despite finishing the game with 15 points and 12 boards, went 5 of 16 from the field and 2 of 7 from deep as the Hawks did a good job at containing him once again. However, at the tail-end of the third quarter and into the fourth, we began to see shades of the Randle who was deserving of winning Most Improved Player this season. Instead of a Knicks guard trying to feed him the ball in the paint, where he was swarmed by double teams, Randle started bringing the ball up himself and creating his own shot. He knocked down a couple triples in the third quarter, and scored 11 of his 15 points in the third frame of action.
His big third quarter is what helped turn the tide for the Knicks, who ended up going on a 30-8 run to take the lead heading into the fourth quarter. Although Randle struggled for a majority of the game, he was still active in other areas on defense and trying to set his teammates up on offense. But his offense is the most important aspect of his game for the Knicks, and to see him start to get going in the second half should be a positive sign for New York as they head to Atlanta with the series tied up. The Hawks aren't going to stop pressuring Randle when he gets the ball, but he started to figure out how to break down the defense in the second half by pulling out bigger defenders and driving past them, or pulling up for a mid-range jumper. Perhaps he'll be able to piece that all together for Game 3.
3. Major coaching mistake by McMillan
In the midst of the Knicks going on that 30-8 run, Young sat for pretty much the entirety of it as he watch the Hawks lose what was a double-digit lead and get into a 10-point hole by the time he checked back in midway through the fourth quarter. I get not wanting to burn your players out too much, but this isn't the regular season. Atlanta had an opportunity to leave Madison Square Garden with a commanding 2-0 lead on their way home, and watched it slip away while its best player was on the bench. Young should've been on the floor for majority of the second half as the Knicks started to get their offense going, especially considering no one on New York showed an ability to slow him down at all tonight.
If he had been subbed in earlier, there's a chance the Knicks wouldn't have been able to get out to such a big lead, and the Hawks would've had a chance to squeak out another win. But by the time Young checked back in, it was a little too late, and it also didn't help that the role players around him went ice cold down the stretch when he was dropping off dimes out to them on the perimeter. It's a lesson learned for McMillan and the Hawks who surely won't let the Knicks get out to a run like that again in this series.