Trae Young masterfully stuck it to the Knicks and their fans once again.
The 2021 postseason villain and his Hawks essentially have ended the Knicks’ season for a second consecutive spring, silencing the booing Garden crowd with 45 points and eight assists in a 117-111 victory Tuesday night to push the Knicks ever-closer to mathematical elimination.
RJ Barrett couldn’t fully match Young in leading scorer Julius Randle’s injury absence, finishing with 30 points and 13 rebounds for the Knicks, who now trail No. 10 Atlanta by six games for the final play-in berth in the Eastern Conference with just 10 to play.
“We got to keep fighting. You’re not eliminated until you’re eliminated. Crazy things happen in sports,” Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said before the game. “Just win the next game”. That’s all we’re thinking about.”
With Randle sidelined with a day-to-day quadriceps injury, those clamoring to see 2020 lottery pick Obi Toppin get more minutes got their wish for at least one game. Toppin flushed multiple dunks and finished with 10 points in 24 minutes in his third start of the season.
Alec Burks also contributed 21 points and Immanuel Quickley had 17 for the Knicks, who fell to 30-42 to clinch a record losing following last year’s 41-31 resurgence. Bogdan Bogdanovic supported Young by netting 32 for the Hawks (36-36)
Of course, Young led his team to a five-game ousting of the Knicks in the first round of the playoffs last spring. The Knicks actually had won their previous seven regular-season games against Atlanta, however, marking the longest regular-season streak for either team in this matchup since the Knicks also took seven straight from Atlanta from 2003-05.
Young, who heard profane chants directed at him during the three playoff games at the Garden last year, didn’t play in the Christmas Day contest in New York this season due to COVID-19. The Knicks won that matchup via a triple-double by since-shutdown guard Kemba Walker, and they also took two games in Atlanta on Nov. 27 and Jan. 15th.
“The important thing for us is to play winning basketball. We have great fans. We’ve got to make sure we’re doing the right things to win the game. So don’t get wrapped up in emotions, things like that,” Thibodeau said. “Play well. Do the things that we need to do in order to win and that’s where I want the focus to lie. We know they’re a very talented team.
“So all the hoopla that’s what makes it special playing here. I think most players in the league love coming here to play. It’s the best arena in the league, in the world. And the fans are terrific, so you’re going to get their best effort. We have to make sure we give our best effort.”
With Randle sidelined, the offense mostly ran through Barrett in the first half, and he recorded 17 points and three assists — all lob passes for dunks to either Toppin or Mitchell Robinson.
The Knicks held a 12-point lead midway through the second. But Young finished the half with 24 — including four 3-pointers — as the Hawks carried a 64-58 lead into intermission.
Triples by Young and Kevin Huerter early in the third pushed the Atlanta lead to 11, but the Knicks ripped off a 23-10 run — culminated by a Jericho Sims dunk and a Burks jumper — to grab an 85-83 lead with under a minute left in the third and a two-point advantage into the final quarter.
With Young sitting down to start the fourth, the Knicks stretched their advantage to 10 on 3-pointers by Quickley and rookie Miles McBride. But Bogdanovic netted eight points in a 13-4 Atlanta spurt to close the gap back to one and Young connected from long distance for a 105-105 game with just under three minutes remaining.
Subsequent 3-pointers by Bogdanovic and De’Andre Hunter and two more buckets by Young snapped the tie and put the Knicks down by six with 1:04 to go.