The Atlanta Hawks are one win away from clinching a spot in the Eastern Conference semifinals after their 113-96 victory over the New York Knicks in Game 4 of their best-of-seven series on Sunday afternoon.
After a competitive first half, the Hawks opened up a sizable lead in the third quarter and never looked back. The Knicks couldn’t stop Trae Young and Atlanta’s shooters on the defensive end in the second half, and they couldn’t come close to keeping up with them offensively. Trae Young led the way for the Hawks with 27 points and nine assists, but it was a total team effort, as Atlanta had six different players score in double figures.
As a team, Atlanta knocked down 15 3-pointers, compared to nine from the Knicks. The difference in the long-range shooting was a big factor in the outcome of this one, as was the fact that Julius Randle continued to struggle to score. Randle finished the game with 23 points, but he shot just 7-for-19 from the floor, and he turned the ball over five times. The Hawks have done a great job of defending him all series, and that trend continued in Game 4. The Knicks will need more from the NBA’s Most Improved Player in Game 5 if they’re going to extend the series.
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The series now shifts back to New York where the Knicks will look to stave off elimination on their home floor in Game 5. That matchup is scheduled for Wednesday night at 7:30 p.m. ET. Before moving ahead to that game, here’s a look at three key takeaways in Atlanta’s Game 4 win.
1. The Trae Young show
The Hawks as a team have been very solid in this series so far, but Trae Young has been singularly spectacular. Young is averaging 27.5 points and 10 assists per game through four games, and he made some NBA history in the process by becoming the second player ever to lead his team outright in points and assists in each of his first four career playoff games. Hall-of-Famer Dave Bing was the first, for those who were wondering.
Young also became just the fourth player in NBA history to average 25 points and 10 assists over his first four playoff games, joining Kevin Johnson, Stephen Curry and Oscar Robertson.
One thing has become abundantly clear in this series, and it’s that Young isn’t afraid of the big stage, at all. Not only has he been excellent on the court, but he also has the personality, or charisma, or swag – however you want to refer to it – to match. He embraced the villain role in New York, and he has clearly enjoyed putting on a show in front of his home fans in Atlanta.
Young appears to be one of the players that were made for the moment, as they say. It’s always appreciated when a player injects his personality into his game, and that’s exactly what Young has done. It’s been extremely fun to watch him put on a show during his first postseason appearance.
2. The Hawks controlled the 3-point line
The 3-ball was a major difference-maker in Game 4. As a team, the Hawks had an impressive afternoon from long range. They knocked down 15 3-pointers and shot a respectable 38.5 percent from beyond the arc. Six different Hawks players had at least one 3-pointer, which shows just how many floor-spacing weapons they have. The Knicks, on the other hand, were much less successful from long range. They hit just nine 3-pointers as a team, and shot just 31 percent on their 29 attempts.
It’s tough to win in the NBA today if you’re outscored by 18 points from deep, and that’s exactly what happened to the Knicks on Sunday afternoon. Unfortunately, this has been a trend for the Knicks all series, as they were outshot 40-31 from beyond the arc over the first three games of the series. In Game 5, the Knicks will have to try to figure out a way to close the gap, and since their players aren’t magically just going to turn into better shooters, that will likely have to come on the defensive end. The Knicks will have to try to do a better job of running Atlanta’s shooters off of the line, or to just make things generally tougher on Atlanta’s offense, because the Hawks made things look pretty easy in the second half on Sunday.
3. The struggle continues for Julius Randle
Randle had his most productive game of the series in terms of points scored in Game 4 (23), but he was still extremely inefficient, and largely ineffective. Randle shot just 7-for-19 from the floor, and he turned the ball over five times. The Hawks have done a good job at showing him bodies and making sure that he doesn’t have much room to operate all series, and he has been largely unable to adjust. Randle has struggled immensely against Atlanta’s defense, and his inability to produce points is a huge part of the reason that the Knicks are down 3-1. He’s shot just 20-for-73 over the first four games of the series, and he certainly doesn’t look like the player that won the NBA’s M.I.P. award for his play during the regular season.
You don’t want to be too tough on Randle, as he obviously had a great season and is a solid player, but it’s become pretty clear that he can’t be the top offensive option on a legitimate contender. He could be a great second or third guy, but he still has a way to go before he could be a viable top option. Hopefully, he bounces back for a big breakout performance in Game 5, because without it, the series will likely come to an end.