By Lenn Robbins
It only gets harder from here, as it should, but let’s be New York honest here. Had the Knicks lost Wednesday night’s Game 2 and fallen into that playoff abyss known as 0-2, it would have been as close to mission impossible for the Knicks as Tom Cruise has ever known.
Down 15 in the first half and looking like a team that had left its swagger in the home locker room in The Garden, the Knicks erupted in the second half to score a 101-92 win over the Hawks that left 16,254 fans reaching for throat lozenges and the Knicks heading to Atlanta with the best-of-seven series tied 1-1.
The Knicks withstood another superstar performance from Trae Young (30 points, seven assists), who got manhandled by variety of defenders and The Garden crowd which raised its game along with its team. Instead of chant “F$!k Trae Young,” all night the fans opted for the wittier, “Trae is Balding.” When your team posts its first playoff win in eight years, chant away, cheer away,
Derrick Rose (32) is giving away 10 years and healthy knees to Young but turned in a superstar performance of his own, scoring 26 points with four assists, four rebounds and turned the Knicks from tentative to attackers. Alec Burks added 11 points, eight rebounds and two assists as the Knicks bench outscored the Atlanta bench, 55-22.
The Knicks trailed 57-44 at halftime and looked like the most tenuous team in the playoffs. But led by Rose and Reggie Bullock (15 points), who also played some solid defense on Young, the Knicks led 76-75 entering the fourth. They extended the lead to 88-78 before Atlanta rallied for a 91-91 tie.
The crowd simply willed the Knicks to victory. With no one sitting and no one silent, the Knicks responded with a 9-0 run. The series resumes in Atlanta Friday where the Hawks will have the home court advantage and the Knicks can’t expect to play as physical as they did all night and get the benefit of the whistle. Hawks coach Nate McMillan got fined for telling that truth.
The Knicks will have to be ready from the tip and not trail after the first 12 minutes as they have in both first quarters. They will need a more aggressive and effective Julius Randle (15 points on 5-of-16 shooting and 11 rebounds). They will likely face another tremendous performance from Young, who has now scored at least 30 points in each of his first two playoff games.
But the series is even because the Knicks challenged their inner Tom Thibodeau, the veteran hardcore coach who has instilled a toughness in this team we didn’t know for certain existed until the second half Wednesday night. Because of that, winning this series remains mission possible.