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Knicks’ victory over Atlanta a cathartic W in more ways than one

While avenging last year’s playoff defeat, the Knicks picked up a quality win for the first time in a while

New York Knicks v Atlanta Hawks Photo by Scott Cunningham/NBAE via Getty Images

Of the sporadic wins the Knicks have managed to pick up in recent weeks (they haven’t had a streak of any kind since losing two straight on Nov. 10 and 12) none have felt particularly good.

A win by two points counts in the standings just as much as a win by 30. But whether it was a required double-digit comeback against a middling opponent (Indiana), a tight contest against an inferior one (Houston), or a blown double-digit lead that had to be salvaged (Lakers), those victories (all at home, btw) never felt like the kind New York could build off of. They weren’t of the variety we expect from a team that’s supposedly shed its underdog mentality after making the playoffs last season.

“It’s a matter of consistency for us,” Evan Fournier said.

Which brings us to Saturday night. The Knicks were set to play the Atlanta Hawks, a team that entered the matchup having won its last seven outings. This game was to take place in State Farm Arena, where the Hawks had previously only lost one time before playing against New York.

Overcoming a surging team that dominates its home court? Those are the circumstances that could produce the kind of quality victory the Knicks have been searching for over the last handful of weeks. They also just so happened to manifest against the team responsible for sending the Knicks home in the playoffs last spring, offering the chance for a potentially great win to also serve as a revenge game of sorts.

It wasn’t a surprise to see Atlanta edge out New York in their 1st-round matchup last season. Not when both teams entered the postseason with identical 41-31 records. But the Knicks had hope in the form of homecourt advantage. In the form of a 3-0 record against their playoff foe during the regular season. Because Julius Randle had torched them in those three games with 37.3 points (73.2 TS%), 12.3 rebounds, and 6.7 assists a night.

And the Hawks absolutely shattered that optimism, stealing Game 1 at MSG in the final seconds, locking up the league’s Most Improved Player, and winning the series in five games with three of their Ws coming by double figures.

“The just had a great scheme. Credit to them,” Randle said after being eliminated in Game 5. “They played extremely well, shot the ball well. They made more plays than we did.”

Atlanta soured the ending to a remkarbaly sweet season for the Knicks and added salt in the wound with plenty of taunts and insults to go around. The results of that series may have been set in stone. They could still be avenged as best as possible the following season, beginning on Saturday night.

Well, the Knicks didn’t just beat the Hawks to snap their 7-game winning streak and hand them just their second home loss of the season. This win didn’t come by the skin of their teeth. New York limited the league’s 3rd-best offense to just 35.5 percent shooting from the field and a 9-of-37 night from beyond the arc.

Atlanta only scored 90 points in this one, its lowest total in any game this season, as the Knicks won by nine after leading by as many as 14 in the final quarter. Considering how potent Atlanta’s offense is and how badly it sliced and diced New York during their five-game playoff battle, that’s a mighty impressive defensive effort.

“That was a great defensive game from start to finish,” RJ Barrett said after the game. “And we’re very proud of that.”

It’d be great if this win, which came without any of Kemba, Rose, Noel, or Gibson, is the starting point of a special stretch for a Knicks team that’s only a couple of games above .500. Maybe it is. Maybe it isn’t.

“We know we can beat anybody,” Fournier said in his postgame press conference. “We know we can lose to anybody and play very consistently. So we need to look at that win, what we did good, and do it again.”

Then again, the satisfaction that comes from an impressive road victory against a growing rival is worth plenty. In a season that the Knicks are proving comes with plenty of ups and downs, that should be enough. At least until the next game Tuesday against Brooklyn.