By Lenn Robbins
Playoff basketball doesn’t allow for a big sample size but one thing is clear after three games:
The Hawks star, who was surprisingly left off the All-Star team, is playing like an All Star. The Knicks star, who some say he wasn’t worthy of his All-Star selection, is not playing like the league’s Most Improved Player, no less an All Star.
While Trae Young toyed with the Knicks for a third straight playoff game and Julius Randle seemed utterly unsure by the Hawks defense, this best-of-seven series is looking bleak for New York.
Young scored at ease at times en route to a 20-point, 14-assist performance and Randle struggled his way to 13 points, the Hawks pulled away from the Knicks for a 105-94 win and a 2-1 lead in the series.
“We didn’t prove nothing yet,” said Young, who has 35 assists in the three games. “We still didn’t win the series.”
True, but this feels like a big 2-1 deficit for the Knicks who struggled to score, led by Randle who was 2-for-15 and is now 13-for-54. Yikes. The Knicks were 29-of-80 (36.3-percent) and simply don’t seem to have as many answers as the Hawks.
Game 4 is Sunday afternoon and the Knicks are close to desperation mode.
Coach Tom Thibodeau made the biggest changes he could realistically make, inserting Derrick Rose into the starting lineup for the ineffective Elfrid Payton. Rose was a warrior scoring a game-high 30 points with six rebounds and five assists in a team-high 39 minutes. He was the only Knicks player to shoot better than 50-percent from the field (13-of-21).
With Rose in the starting lineup the Knicks bench, their one strength in the first two games, was weakened. The Knicks bench edged the Hawks, 32-31, only because Nerlens Noel, who tweaked his ankle in Game 2, came off the bench and scored 12 points and grabbed eight rebounds.
Bottom line, for the Knicks to have a chance Tibs must find a way to inject a huge vat of swagger into Randle. He’s playing hard, as evidenced by his 10 boards. But he’s a study in uncertainty. The low point came with 1:55 left when Randle went to the basket only to be rejected by Clint Capela, who waved his index finger a la Dikembe Mutombo.