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Game 5 preview: The Knicks are down, but not out

It ain’t over ‘til it’s over.

New York Knicks v San Antonio Spurs
This team still has some fight left in it. How much?
Photos by Logan Riely/NBAE via Getty Images

The Knicks are in a tough spot, but they’ve spent the entire year exceeding expectations and silencing haters. The Hawks have them on the ropes, but one win is all it takes to shift the tide. Can the Knicks win Game 5 and extend their season?

Sure they can! Will they? We don’t know. Based on the rest of the series to date, it feels like Atlanta has a serious edge, especially with their star rising ever higher as New York’s star struggles to stay in the sky. While the Knicks lost both games in Atlanta by double digits, the truth of the matter is that they’ve only been outscored by a total of 21 points for the series, or 5.25 points per contest. They’ll be back at Madison Square Garden tonight, where they lost Game 1 by two and won Game 2 by nine.

Things change quickly in the playoffs. There will be plenty of time for despair if the Knicks fall behind early and play frustrated instead of tough. For now, however, let’s try to remain optimistic. Here are four reasons to feel confident heading into Game 5, which tips off at 7:30.

Julius Randle is trending in the right direction.

There are all sorts of stats one can point to in order to showcase why the Hawks are currently leading this series 3-1, but it primarily comes down to a simple truth: Trae Young has been much better than Julius Randle.

Young is playing better than he did during the regular season, with playoff averages of 27.5 points and 10 assists (40% from the field, 37% from three and 95% from the free throw line). He’s surrounded by healthy, capable shooters, has lob threats in Clint Capela and John Collins, and hasn’t been exposed as a defensive liability.

Randle, on the other hand, has been unable to handle the Hawks annoyingly functional defense, which includes various double teams and third help defenders stationed in both the paint and passing lanes. But the deer-in-headlights look that was pasted on Randle’s face for the first few games is fading. All in all, he’s averaging 17 points, 11 boards and 4 assists per game (in addition to almost 4 turnovers).

His shooting still stinks (27% from the field thus far), but Game 4 was easily his best performance of the series. After failing to reach the 20-point mark in any of the first three games, he notched 23 points in Game 4. Again, the shooting was still bad (7-19, or 37%), but his shooting was way worse in each of the first three games.

Maybe some of those difficult shots Randle regularly nailed in the regular season will start dropping tonight. What if Randle suddenly gets hot?

No one on the Hawks is stopping that D-Rose train.

Derrick Rose has been the best Knicks player in the series, with averages of 23 points on 51% shooting and 50% from three, plus 5 assists and 4 rebounds in 37 minutes per game. Inserting him into the starting lineup didn’t solve New York’s issues, but it’s pretty clear Rose can be counted on to be a stable presence.

Rose isn’t a sieve on defense, and after turning the ball over five times in Game 1, he’s only posted three total turnovers the rest of the series, including zero in Game 4. If the Knicks are going to turn this series around, Rose will need help from Randle and others.

But rest assured, Rose will do his best to keep the Knicks from falling into a deep hole from which they cannot dig out.

RJ Barrett is determined as hell.

Barrett, like Randle, has struggled in his first ever postseason appearance, with averages of 14 points on just under 40% from the field and about 27% from deep, plus 7 rebounds and 2 assists.

He’s still just 20-years-old for a couple more weeks. The moment may have been too big for him at first, but after failing to reach even 15 points through the first three games, Barrett blasted off for 21 points on 8-15 from the field (53%) in Game 4.

He’s clearly determined to prove his highs in the regular season are who he is, not the inconsistency that has plagued some of his young career, including in the first few games of this series.

Mike and Clyde will call Game 5 on MSG

There’s been a lot of hullabaloo about Marv Albert being on the call for TNT. A long-time Knicks announcer, Albert was fired from the team in 2004, allegedly because he was too honest about the team’s struggles. And let’s be clear: Albert’s voice is about as iconic as it gets when it comes to sports announcers.

But he’s got his flaws. Such as the time he was accused of sexual assault and pled guilty, resulting in his firing from NBC in 1997. And he’ll be calling Game 5 alongside Knicks nemesis Reggie Miller.

Fortunately, there’s good juju to be had if you know where to look, and where you should be looking is MSG Network, where Mike Breen and Walt Clyde Frazier will call Game 5.

They easily stand among the best announcer duos in sports, and hopefully their presence provides a boost that enables the Knicks to play their best basketball of the season. Breen and Clyde have called plenty of impressive Knicks victories this season in games where it seemed like they were not just down, but out. What’s another one tonight?