The Knicks sounded defiant they’re not ready for the “vacation” Hawks outspoken center Clint Capela said he has planned for them.
The Knicks didn’t need more reason to have fire in their bellies to keep this fairytale season humming, but Capela provided it.
Capela stoked the Knicks further with bulletin-board fodder by saying their reputed toughness has been a non-factor.
The Knicks trail the best-of-seven series 3-1 and need a victory in Game 5 at the roaring Garden to hold off summer and what could be a busy offseason with their slew of free agents, four draft picks and $60 million in cap space.
Derrick Rose said Capela is “talking crazy.”
RJ Barrett, asked about Capela’s vacation plans for the Knicks, said, “We’ll see [Wednesday].”
The bad blood was already brewing between the teams, and Capela’s salty remarks only will boil it further. Capela said the Knicks’ toughness hasn’t been as advertised and “now we’re coming to your home to win this game again and send you on vacation.”
“Don’t care, don’t care, don’t care,” Knicks’ struggling All-Star Julius Randle said. “I just heard about it and I do not care. We’re not focused on that. We’re focused on what we’ve got to do as a team. So, you want to ask what we’ve got to do, that’s great. But why would I give a hell what Clint Capela has to say?”
“I just think this is who we are as a team. We’ve been counted out all year. Odds have been stacked against us all year, according to experts or whoever the hell you want to call it. And this is where we’re comfortable. Obviously, we’re not going out without a fight.”
No the Knicks aren’t. In fact, more physical fireworks could erupt Wednesday — as happened late in Game 4 in Atlanta as tempers and elbows flared among Randle, Atlanta’s Danilo Gallinari and Reggie Bullock of the Knicks.
The Knicks, whose ruggedness on defense was the scourge of the NBA, didn’t seem to appreciate Capela talking smack about their toughness.
“I’m 32 years old. I never talked s–t like that in my life and I’m not going to start now because Clint Capela’s started talking crazy,” Rose said. “It don’t get to us like that. Just too old for that s–t, bro. I don’t got nothing to say about that, bro.”
The Hawks have defanged Randle in the series. The Knicks’ lefty power-forward wrecking ball has been limited in the four games, averaging 16.8 points on 27.4 percent shooting, averaging four assists. But he’s been swarmed by double- and triple-teams and needs help.
Certainly Randle hasn’t lost a stitch of his regular-season bravado on Zoom press conferences.
“We’re not even worrying about that,” Randle said. “We have the ultimate confidence and belief in who we are as a team, that we can get it done. This is where we’re comfortable, being in uncomfortable situations. Personally as a player, this is where I’m most comfortable. I’m looking forward to the challenge.”
The Knicks were blown out by a combined 28 points in two losses in Atlanta, with its raucous crowd of 16,000-plus. The Garden will approach 17,000 fans — and be as loud as ever.
The Knicks haven’t played well before hostile crowds this pandemic season. In the State Farm Arena losses, they fell to pieces in the second quarter of Game 3, then in the third quarter of Game 4 with the deafening crowd a major factor.
Their fourth-quarter collapse in Phoenix in early May was an eye-opener when they played before the NBA’s largest regular-season crowd of 8,063.
“You could tell that the intensity changed,” Rose said of those two quarters. “You could tell [the Hawks] were getting into the ball more, we’re just letting them get confidence.”
And now they have the home court back and will attempt to force a Game 6 in Atlanta on Friday.
“We’ve done a great job of protecting home court all year,” Randle said. “We have to defend. They’re shooting the ball extremely well. But we have to defend. That’s how we’ve won games all year. That’s what we’ve hung our hat on.”
Tom Thibodeau has decisions to make. Moving Rose to starting point guard over Elfrid Payton and using the backup guard tandem of Alec Burks and Immanuel Quickley for Games 3 and 4 backfired.
Thibodeau can still stick with Rose as a starter, but must decide to either bring Payton off the bench for 12 or so minutes or unleash Frank Ntilikina to hound the Hawks’ sizzling point guard Trae Young.
“We count on everyone,” Thibodeau said when asked about mulling a point-guard rotation change. “Just be ready to go. You look at everything. You look at in totality. You break it down quarter by quarter, the corrections that need to be made. You’re looking at all the information and you’ve got to move forward.”
And maybe he shows the club Capela’s comments, hope the players take it to heart. Nobody wants vacation starting Thursday.
“The challenge for us is just to stay focused, concentrate on what we need to do and be ready for the first quarter,” Thibodeau said. “That’s it.”