The New York Knicks pulled even in their first round series against the Atlanta Hawks with a come-from-behind 101-92 Game 2 victory at Madison Square Garden. Playing in their first NBA playoffs since 2013, the Knicks rallied behind a raucous home crowd to turn what was a 10 point halftime deficit into a crucial nine-point win.
This season’s Most Improved Player Julius Randle struggled over most of the evening, finishing with just 15 points on 16 shot attempts, but head coach Tom Thibodeau leaned on two of his most trusted veterans to bring home the win and tie the series at 1-1.
Derrick Rose and Taj Gibson, who also played for Thibodeau in his previous coaching stints with the Chicago Bulls and Minnesota Timberwolves during the past decade, came off the bench and played over 30 minutes each.
Now 10 years removed from winning the NBA Most Valuable Player award with Bulls, the 32-year-old played a team-high 38 minutes and led New York with 26 points—his highest total in a playoff game since 2015.
Rose added four rebounds and four assists while recording just one turnover in what turned out to be a duel against Atlanta’s rising star Trae Young. The hero of Game 1 and the main target of the New York crowd’s ire, Young led the Hawks with 30 points and seven assists, but had five turnovers.
After checking into the game for Elfrid Payton midway through the first quarter, Rose did not leave the floor until Thibodeau gave him a quick breather to start the fourth period. His relentless forays to the basket were crucial in keeping the Knicks afloat, especially in the first half, as the team’s two leading scorers Randle and RJ Barret could not find their form.
With Rose shouldering the load on offense, Gibson was tasked to anchor the Knicks’ defense. Now playing in his 12th season in the NBA, he continues to star in his role as New York’s reserve big man. Thrust into the rotation following Mitchell Robinson’s season ending injury, Gibson’s veteran savvy has allowed him to remain a reliable contributor despite his declining athleticism and relative lack of size as a 6’9 center.
Gibson played 30 minutes in Game 2, almost double the total of starting center Nerlens Noel, and recorded with six points, seven rebounds, three steals, and a block. He also had the highest +/- in the game with +23 in his time on the floor. He limited the effectiveness of Atlanta’s pick-and-roll and helped contain the athletic big man tandem of Clint Capela and John Collins who combined for just four points. On the other end, Gibson’s dunk off a drop pass from Randle with less than two minutes to play gave the Knicks a seven point lead that sealed the win.
New York’s other reserves were also key to their win. Alec Burks scored 11 points and grabbed eight rebounds in 29 minutes while orchestrating the Knicks’ run that turned a one point lead at the end of the third quarter into a 10 point advantage with less than nine minutes left to play. His most memorable play of the game came over that stretch when he threw a lob in transition to first year forward Obi Toppin who dunked it with two hands and electrified the home crowd.
Toppin, who has seen limited minutes this season after the Knicks picked him eighth overall in last November’s rookie draft, seemed comfortable in the playoff environment. He was solid in his two stints on the floor as Randle’s reliever and finished with eight points, three rebounds, and a block.
The Knicks’ win guaranteed at least one more game at the world’s most famous arena, but the teams will first make their way to Atlanta where the Hawks went 25-11 at the State Farm Arena during the regular season. The Hawks now have home court advantage in this series after their Game 1 victory at New York and will look to preserve it over the next two games.
Meanwhile, the Knicks have yet to extract strong showings from their young tandem of Randle and Barrett in the postseason, but if Rose and Gibson continue to defy Father Time and flash their form from a decade ago, Thibodeau’s ever-reliable duo might just be enough to bring one of the league’s most storied franchises back into the second round.