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Knicks 101, Hawks 87: ‘That game was the best Christmas present I could hope for’

A fun afternoon.

Atlanta Hawks v New York Knicks Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

The Knicks starting lineup has been disappointing and inconsistent, leading to a very frustrating team to watch in the first quarter. This afternoon, however, we saw a Christmas miracle. Kemba Walker knocked down his first shot of the day from 3 and then set up Mitchell Robinson for a dunk off a pick and roll. Those plays were followed up by a Walker drive that led to a Evan Fournier 3. The New York native that put on an inspiring performance in the Knicks’ last game, started off this game as being the aggressive, scoring, play-making guard that fans had hoped to see.

The Knicks continued their hot shooting and ball movement in route to a 7/7 start, including 5-5 from three. They jumped out to a 19-3 lead and the team looked to be cruising. Walker kept attacking, Julius Randle had a couple baskets, and Fournier and RJ Barrett both had early threes as well. Offensively, this was one of the best starts of the season and with different guys chipping in.

But the basketball is a game of runs, and we are talking about a Knicks team that had given up leads plenty of times this season. The Hawks went on a run of their own and by the end of the quarter, the 16-point lead had been cut down to nine. Given how hot the Knicks started the game, the Hawks were probably content with where they sat after 12 minute of play. And while the Knicks gave up some easy shots and got a bit sloppy with turnovers, overall, the play was very solid. There was a lot less 1 on 1 iso plays and more attacking the middle of the paint which lead to easy kick outs to shooters. The ball was moving a lot more and it was a way more balanced attack on offense so they too had to have been content with their 1st quarter performance.

The second quarter was a lot more balanced than the first, as the Knicks only outscored the Hawks by one. To be honest, if it wasn’t for Evan Fournier’s barrage late in the quarter, it probably would have been a lot closer. To begin the second period, the Hawks cut the lead to 5 thanks to a pair of Skylar Mays baskets. For much of the rest of the quarter, it was a back and forth between the two teams. The Hawks got Cam Reddish going while the Knicks were propelled by fan favorite Obi Toppin, who scored 9 straight points. The ball movement was a bit worse in the second quarter; the team overall settled for threes a bit too much at times and Randle had flashes of his isolation-happy play style again. Thankfully, Fournier caught fire as he has shown he can and scored the Knicks’ final 10 points of the half.

The third quarter has been a very scary one for the Knicks and their fans this year, as it has often been the period that has taken them out of games. So while they went in to the quarter with a double-digit lead, there was still a lot to be concerned with. The offense again got stagnant, with a lack of movement on and off the ball. There was a lot more isolation ball, over-dribbling and just overall sloppiness. Even when they did get an open look, they failed to capitalize.

In the first 6:00 minutes, the team managed to only score four points. The only positive was that the Hawks were struggling to score themselves. Part of that was the Knicks defense, which had pretty good energy with Mitchell Robinson anchoring the middle and protecting the rim; part of that was the Hawks missing their best player. With Trae Young out, they struggled to consistently get good looks and they also were missing what good shots they were getting. Right as the arena started to get quiet, the Knicks offense found their groove once again. Randle popped out for a catch-and-shoot three off a Walker assist and then followed up with another one just seconds later. Randle then started to attack the defense that was closing out harder which then lead to better ball movement and a pair of Quentin Grimes three-pointers. After a pull-up jumper by Fournier, the Knicks took an 18-point lead and finished the quarter up 15.

Much of the fourth quarter went the way the first and the end of the third quarter. The Hawks continued to struggle on offense and the Knicks used some great ball movement to get great looks from third. Walker secured a triple-double (the 3rd of his career and the first since April 1, 2014), Randle had some nice three-point makes, Barrett had a few nice floaters and finishes around the rim and Toppin capped it all off with a through-the-legs dunk in the closing minutes. The team cruised to secure it’s 15th win of the season and improved to 7-11 at home. It really was a great win overall, one the team and the fans needed after the tough loss on Tuesday.

This was a game the Knicks needed. They had just wasted a Kemba Walker masterpiece on Thursday, so losing at home on national television on Christmas Day against a Hawks team without their best player would have been a really bad look. The team not only got a win but showed glimpses of how good this team can still be, at least on offense. The movement and actions on offense were way more fluid today and the team got really good looks for the most part.

Much of that has to be from Walker’s play. His return to the starting lineup has done wonders for the offense (his defense still isn’t great, and to be honest, it never will be). He had a 12 assists tonight and was the type of initiator the team had been missing this season. Randle is capable of creating shots for others, as evident by his play last year, but with teams now having a full season of clips to scout him, they are rushing double teams on him and he has struggled with being decisive and giving up the ball on time hence the turnover troubles. Walker has been great at creating for himself but when he is aggressive and looking to get downhill, something he hadn’t done as much early on in the season, he also puts a lot of pressure on the defense, which has lead to great looks from outside.

The Knicks may not have any elite shooters, but they do have multiple players that are capable of knocking down open shots. Fournier and Barrett has struggled for much of the year but they are both capable shooters who should benefit from Walker’s ability to get into the paint. Grimes is another player who we’ve seen get on a roll and he should really flourish as a catch and shoot player. We saw today just how much of a green light he has on this team and it shows how confident he is and how confident the team is in his shooting ability. But oddly enough, taking the ball out of Randle’s hands has benefitted Randle the most. Instead of asking him to create and go iso and get a bucket every time, he was able to pick his spots and while he still settles for threes a bit too much sometimes, he got a lot of good looks from beyond the arc today. Not only that, he was decisive and took the open catch and shoot shots, which greatly helped out his percentages.

It’s easy to criticize Tom Thibodeau for benching Walker but this version of Walker is not the one the Knicks had to start the season. He was a lot more passive and was almost relegated to a catch and shoot guy himself. Motivated and driven, Walker has returned as the rejuvenated point guard the Knicks wanted and now need more than ever. We also need to give Walker props for staying ready, and being so mature about the whole situation. For his sake, and for the Knicks’ sake, hopefully he can continue to be aggressive and stay on the roll he has been on. Because regardless of the feel-good win on Christmas, this team has dug itself in a pretty deep hole and they will need everyone to play better to get themselves out of it.

But let us focus on the present for now. As P&T’er DWilTheCommunityAdvocate noted, the 101-87 win was a wonderful gift for Knicks fans.