The Knicks were 24 minutes away from facing a 2-0 series deficit to the Hawks and then having to fly down to Atlanta to start a near insurmountable comeback.
They knew what they were up against – and they turned it around.
The Knicks, who had trailed by as many as 15 at one point in the first half, outscored the Hawks 57-35 in the second half to win 101-92 and tie the series at one apiece.
“We just felt we were flat, and we needed a jolt of energy,” head coach Tom Thibodeau said. “So we wanted to change it up, and we got going. It started with the defense, and then we started sharing the ball and spraying it out, got some good looks, and we made shots…
“I love this team. There’s a great will and determination to them. Obviously, we were disappointed with the way we played in the first half, but I knew in the second half, there would be a great fight, and there was. … Coming out with that energy, sort of getting going, sometimes it’s just a couple hustle plays that can get you going.”
This wasn’t the Knicks’ first large comeback of the season. They reminded themselves of that in the locker room at halftime.
“Never doubted…” said Julius Randle. “A lot of guys came in the locker room at the half and said we’ve been in this position before. … It was just up to us to change our intensity level. Went to another level, and we were able to pull out the win.”
On a personal level, Derrick Rose said he was “disappointed” in himself for not playing with enough urgency in Game 1.
He then responded with a 26-point performance (one shy of regular-season high) in 39 minutes (his most in two-and-a-half years).
“Coming in, I wanted to play with intensity and just try to play as hard as I could and follow my teammates footsteps,” Rose said. “I felt like I played sluggish last game. … To get that far, to play the way we played, to come back and get the lead and win, it shows a lot. It shows fight, and people stepped up and made plays for our shooters.”
The Knicks will look to take their first lead of the series on Friday at 7:00 p.m. in Atlanta for Game 3.