For the first time in more than eight years – more precisely 2,923 days – New York Knicks could celebrate a playoff win. And like the last one, they could do it in Madison Square Garden.
It was the Knicks’ first postseason win since May 16, 2013, when they won the Indiana Pacers 85-75 in game 5 of the conference semifinals, a series they ultimately lost in six games.
Wednesday night’s win sent Knicks fans out of the building onto Seventh Avenue as they cheered Julius Randle, Obi Toppin, Reggie Bullock and more. They continued to despise the Hawks’ watch Trae Young‘s name and even sang about wanting that Brooklyn networks.
But before they can grant that wish – something that cannot happen until the Eastern Conference finale – there is more to be done against the Hawks.
The Knicks fell back by as much as 15 in the first half, prompting Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau to make some line-up changes to start the third quarter. Elfrid Payton and Nerlens Noel sat for Derrick Rose and Taj Gibson, two longtime Thibodeau stalwarts.
The changes have paid off.
“We started slowly and then our bank played and played pretty well,” said Thibodeau. “Then we slowly closed the second quarter. So I just wanted to change it. We wanted to do something different. That’s why you have a bank. These guys came in and played great. I thought they played great in the first quarter.” half so I wanted to give us a different look, and it was a plus. “
Rose and Gibson are the two senior members of this year’s Knicks, in terms of age and playoff experience. En route to the playoffs, Rose and Gibson combined for 112 career playoff appearances while the rest of the squad combined for 37.
Thibodeau said the experience helped give his team a boost in the second half.
“We have some people who haven’t played in the playoffs and they get better with time,” said Thibodeau. “There’s only one way to get experience and that is what you have to get. So I think every game gets better. I think you learn from every game. You learn from every situation. But I think the fact that these guys have it was a big plus for our team to have participated in big games before. “
In the first half, the Knicks bench prevailed against the starters 30-14, with Rose taking the lead. He finished the team with 26 points in 39 minutes. That came after playing game 1 for 38 minutes.
Despite getting off the bench with the Knicks in the regular season in 32 of 35 games, Rose said he was preparing to deal with minutes like this.
“I’ve been working on my bum for a couple of years now, preparing to put my body in order,” said Rose. “I take care of myself pretty well. I don’t want to say too much about this because I don’t want to bewitch myself. But I’m good.”
Rose was also happy with his game in Game 2 after a performance in Game 1 that made him less than enthusiastic.
“I’m just happy that I feel good. We won and I played a lot differently than in the first game,” said Rose. “I made sure I got into the ball when it passed halfway through the field. And just tried to play with urgency. I didn’t see the last game and I was disappointed with myself.”
A strong start from Rose and the bench gave the Knicks another slow start from Randle, who was named the league’s most improved player on Tuesday. Randle went 6-0 in the first half and only scored two points.
But he got his game going in the third quarter with 11 points; He finished with 15 points and 12 rebounds.
“We came out in the third quarter knowing we couldn’t lose two in our home place,” said Randle. “Our intensity has only increased defensively to another level. Derrick, Reggie and these guys did a good job getting in the ball. We could get stops and out and play a little faster. We played at a better pace.” at the offensive end. “
The Knicks defense stepped up in the second half, with the Hawks shooting to just 28%, the worst mark this half of the season.
Atlanta was especially cold towards Randle. According to ESPN Stats & Information Research, the Hawks took a 0:15 lead against Randle as the main defender. It is the first time since data tracking began in the 2013-14 playoffs that a team has won 0 out of 15 against a single player.
The Brooklyn-born Gibson is playing under Thibodeau for the third time in his career after stints in Chicago and Minnesota. He said he remembered his rookie season and sophomore year when the Bulls spoke to Thibodeau after training about what a possible playoff matchup against the Knicks would look like if the Garden rocked again.
While the two are on different teams, it’s still something he doesn’t take for granted.
“I don’t know how to explain,” said Gibson. “But every day I come in here it’s surreal. You have to pinch yourself playing in the garden.
“It’s one of the hardest places to play, but it’s one of the [most beautiful] Places to play if you’re right. I’m just trying to do some special things here, and now we’re laying the groundwork for that. It’s a great feeling. “