'I’ve got bad news': How Yankees learned they lost a legend
History is not on the Knicks' side
The Knicks officially have no other choice
Julius Randle, Tom Thibodeau need to flip Knicks script again
Shadow of Atlanta sports failures hangs over Hawks' bid to take down Knicks
This was already going to be a referendum on the 2020-21 Knicks, a team that, until this weekend, had brought nothing but unrestrained glee to a starving basketball city. This was already going to be about these Knicks, built on a foundation of belief and resilience, if they could reverse this terrible tide of momentum that’s been carrying them sideways ever since they stepped off the team plane in Atlanta last week.
At its base, it still is. The Knicks, at the least, can give Madison Square Garden one final spasm of joy Wednesday night, when they host the Hawks in Game 5 of this best-of-seven first-round series. At the least, they can earn themselves another plane ride to Atlanta, and another game, and another two days, minimum, of a basketball season that nobody much wants to see end, not yet, not like this.
The Knicks, at the least, can hold serve at the Garden.
Force the Hawks to do the same in Game 6, back in Atlanta.
Force them to think of the consequences of not doing that, with a Game 7 scheduled for Sunday at the Garden.
Of course, it will be about more than that now. Hawks center Clint Capela cleared his throat and entertained a Zoom room with some marvelously salty observations about the Knicks, about their style of play. He called them dirty. He never actually uttered the word “fugazy” but, man, he sure did describe the Knicks as a bunch of wannabe tough guys.
And this was the capper:
“Now we’re coming to your home to win this game again and send you on vacation.”
And you know what? Good for Capela. The Hawks should be confident. They should have a surplus of belief that they will end matters in five, that they will be able to celebrate on the Knicks’ logo at half court (hopefully without dodging concession-stand missiles). They have been the far superior team for four games. They’ve surely earned the right to woof.
So now the question is: What will the Knicks do about that?
What can the Knicks do about that?
For a day, they chose to let Capela’s words stand without rebuttal.
“Don’t care,” Julius Randle said. “Don’t care. Don’t care.”
“I’m 32 years old,” Derrick Rose said. “I never talked s–t like that in my whole life. I’m not going to start now once Clint Capela starts talking crazy. I’m too old for that s–t, bro.”
“We’ll see [Wednesday],” RJ Barrett said.
Randle, again: “Why would I give a hell what Clint Capela has to say?”
And that, too, is as it should be. The Knicks have spent precious little time, if any, telling anyone how good they expected to be this year, how improved they believed they were. It was all about proving it. It was all about earning credit, not demanding it.
Play it, don’t say it.
Now they get to do it again. Nobody is looking for fisticuffs, or verbal hijinks. Just play four quarters of basketball that more closely resemble the last four months and not the previous four games. Do that and you get four more quarters in Atlanta Friday to prove that reports of your demise were greatly exaggerated. Squeeze as much season as you can out of this, starting Wednesday night, starting at 7:40 or so, starting at the Garden.
Or start vacation earlier than you ever could have imagined.
“The challenge for us is to stay focused,” Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said, before dismissing the Capela valedictory address: “That’s just noise.”
“Be ready for the first quarter,” the coach said. “That’s it.”
The Hawks are no fluke, of course. They are no joke. We have seen enough from them the first four games to believe that. They are a deeper team. They have a frightening array of shooters, any of whom can get hot instantly. They committed to shutting down Randle, and have. They have earned their swagger.
Earned the right to crow.
The Knicks? They earned the right to get this game at home, to rescue their season inside the big gymnasium on top of Penn Station. They earned the right, Wednesday night, to honor the 72 games that preceded the playoffs, that allowed New York to care about them again, allowed the city game a fresh place of prominence in the city’s soul.
The weather is getting better, yes. But it still doesn’t seem warm enough to start vacation. Not now. Not yet.
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