Knicks topple Hawks in Game 2 to even series behind raucous Madison Square Garden crowd

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NEW YORK — Part of the New York Knicks’ turnaround this season from perennial league laughingstock to the playoffs for the first time since 2012-13 was an emphasis on defense. 

Enter defensive-minded coach Tom Thibodeau, and the impact was immediate.

New York led the NBA in opponent field goal and three-point percentage and allowed the fewest points per game.

But as good as that defensive effort was, the ability to score is what’s ultimately going to win pivotal games in the playoffs. The Knicks at times found themselves bogged down by poor shooting, and with the offense looking for a spark, rushed shots and turned the ball over.

Led by Derrick Rose’s 26 points and using a spirited third quarter-run, the Knicks had five players score in double figures and fought back from a 15-point first-half deficit to defeat the Hawks 101-92 in Game 2 and send this Eastern Conference first-round series back to Atlanta tied at one.
"I am just appreciative to be in the league," said Rose, who played a team-high 39 minutes. "My job is to play as hard as I can. They allowed me to come here and play the way I play."

Bouncing back from a miserable first half, Julius Randle, the NBA’s Most Improved Player, added 15 points and 12 rebounds. Randle shot 5-for-16 in Game 2 after going 6-for-23 in the opener.

Reggie Bullock also had 15 points for the Knicks and made four second half 3-pointers.

For the first 30 minutes, the Knicks were in danger of getting run out of Madison Square Garden, despite the crowd chanting profanities and booing every chance it got.

New York’s latest villain, Atlanta guard Trae Young, got the festivities started with a

28-foot step-back 3-pointer less than a minute into the game.

The Knicks shot 29% in the first half, missing 13 of their first 17 shots, and quickly found themselves down double digits.

Young, following a 32-point performance in Game 1, scored 30, including 13 in a row at one point, and dished out seven assists to lead Atlanta, becoming only the sixth player in league history to score 30 points in his first two playoff games.
After allowing 57 points in the first half, New York stopped Atlanta cold, and the Hawks shot only 36.9% for the game, including 12-of-44 from 3-point range.

Trailing by 13 at the break, Thibodeau started Rose and veteran forward Taj Gibson, and the Knicks immediately went on a 21-6 run. Randle hit his first field goal with a 3-pointer, while consecutive 3-pointers by R.J. Barrett and Rose cut the lead to 61-55.
Another adjustment by Thibodeau was not changing his starting lineup. Elfrid Payton got the nod at point guard, played five minutes and sat the rest of the game.

"We just felt like we were flat. We got going, it started with the defense, and started sharing the ball and made shots," Thibodeau said. "I felt like we had to do something different. Those guys came in and played great.
"There is a great will and determination to this team. I knew there would be great fight."

The Knicks used a 21-6 run midway through the third quarter to take the lead. Rookie Obi Toppin’s alley-oop early in the fourth stretched New York’s lead to 81-75 and got the once lethargic New York crowd on its feet. The Knicks outscored the Hawks 32-18 in third, with Randle scoring 11 points and Rose adding 10 in the frame.

Atlanta had its chances to steal another game. Down by 10 with less than nine minutes to play, Young led the Hawks back using a 13-3 run to tie the game at 91 after he assisted on Clint Capela’s alley-oop throwdown.

The Hawks did nothing after that, scoring one point in the final 5:06 and missing their last eight field goals.

The series shifts to Atlanta on Friday night, where it is expected to be a full house at State Farm Arena.

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John Spacey

John Spacey