The Knicks walked off the Garden floor on Sunday with many more questions than answers.
Here’s a look at three of the more pressing issues the Knicks need to sort out in Game 2 on Wednesday:
GET JULIUS RANDLE GOING
Julius Randle went 6-for-23 against Atlanta on Sunday. It’s logical to credit the Hawks’ defense for Randle’s off night. After all, Randle averaged 39 against Atlanta in the regular season.
But Randle noted after the game that he liked a lot of the shots he got on Sunday. So, to a certain degree, Sunday was more about Randle missing shots he’s made all year than anything the Hawks did on defense.
“I got. I’ll look at film and adjust. There’s no excuses,” Randle said after putting up 15 points, 12 rebounds and four assists against Atlanta. “I don’t really care what they did. I just got to go back to the film. A lot of shots and looks I got I liked. But I got to figure it out and make it a little easier and adjust to the next game.”
Randle and the Knicks had a week between the end of the regular season and Game 1. The Knicks’ All-Star suggested he tried to do too much during the break to get ready for the playoffs. He was asked about what, specifically, he did too much of during the break.
“Listen, I’m not making no excuses,” he said. “I’ve got to be better and I will be better. I’ll just leave it at that.”
Maybe the adjustment is as simple as Randle shooting better in Game 2. But there was a sequence late in the third quarter where his decision-making with the ball in his hands hurt New York.
“They loaded up on him pretty good. We anticipated that,” Thibodeau said after the game. “You’ve got to trust the pass, the game will tell you the play and so if they put two on him, hit the open man and it should be easy offense from there.”
A DIFFERENT APPROACH VS. TRAE YOUNG
For most of the game – especially when it was in the balance in the fourth quarter – Trae Young was brilliant.
The Knicks struggled to defend him as the primary ball-handler in the pick and roll. They also allowed him to penetrate and find open shooters on the perimeter.
Elfrid Payton and Derrick Rose were matched up with Young. Reggie Bullock and RJ Barrett defended him for a few possessions.
Frank Ntilikina was brought in on the Hawks’ last possession to defend Young. Without a screen, Young got to his right and got by Ntilikina, finishing with a game-winning floater.
“Obviously, Frank’s a good defender,” Young said after putting up 32 points, 10 assists and seven rebounds in his playoff debut. “If you play with the ball too much, he can poke at it, things like that. A defender like him, you kind of just gotta go. That’s what I did. I just attacked his outside foot and was able to get around him and get to my floater.”
It will be interesting to see if New York changes how it guards Young in the pick and roll. Or if the Knicks use different personnel on Young.
DO YOU CHANGE THE STARTING LINEUP?
Elfrid Payton started at point guard in Game 1, but played just eight minutes. Thibodeau put Derrick Rose in for Payton just four minutes into the first quarter and then subbed Payton out early on in the third quarter.
Payton has had an up-and-down season and had a tough 20-game stretch to close out the season. He didn’t look sharp on either end of the ball on Sunday.
Perhaps Thibodeau decided to start Rose moving forward? Or give more minutes to Ntilikina? Plenty of decisions for Thibodeau and his staff to make ahead of Wednesday’s Game 2.
ROSE REMAINS CONFIDENT: Randle and Rose both expressed confidence in New York after the Game 1 loss. Rose, who was fantastic off the bench (17 points on 8-of-16 shooting in 38minutes) on Sunday, said specifically that he’s not worried about Randle bouncing back in Game 2.
“We know what type of player he is. He’s a hard worker. It’s up to us to tell him certain things, how they’re playing him, how they’re forcing him certain ways, different sides,” Rose said. “He’s just has to read the game. It’s his first time in the playoffs. He loves the game. He’s a student of the game. So we’ll look at film to figure it out.”
In addition to Rose, Alec Burks (27 points, 9-for-13 shooting), Immanuel Quickley, Obi Toppin and Taj Gibson all played well off the Knick bench. If you’re looking for reasons to be optimistic, the Knicks’ advantage of the Hawks bench was something cited by several analysts as a reason for New York to be confident against the Hawks.
SKYZOO IN 2022? Just my opinion: I would’ve loved Bleacher Report using Skyzoo to do the new Knicks song they published on Sunday. He’s been a great NYC lyricist for a long time.