Hawks showing their tough side against Knicks

Hawks forward John Collins takes an elbow in the face having to leave the game with a bloody mouth for medical attention on a foul from New York Knicks forward Julius Randle during Game 4 of their first-round NBA playoff matchup Sunday, May 30, 2021, at State Farm Arena in Atlanta. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

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Hawks forward John Collins takes an elbow in the face having to leave the game with a bloody mouth for medical attention on a foul from New York Knicks forward Julius Randle during Game 4 of their first-round NBA playoff matchup Sunday, May 30, 2021, at State Farm Arena in Atlanta. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

The Hawks went up 3-1 in their best-of-seven series vs. New York Sunday, but the only trophy they got for that was a swollen lip.

Still, the owner of said lip, Hawks forward John Collins, seemed quite proud of it. Even sent a photo of it to his mom, wearing the boo-boo that required some quick suturing like a badge of honor. And afterward Collins also sounded well pleased with how his team has responded throughout this series when the Knicks have played it rough — the last refuge of a desperate opponent when skill fails.

“I loved it,” Collins said of the physical play. “I thought from the very start we came out with a mindset we weren’t going to let the physical game get to us. I think we matched their physicality as well as played our game.”

Originally, Collins was called for the foul on a Julius Randle drive with about four minutes left in the third quarter, for daring to put his face in the path of the swinging off arm of a clearly frustrated Knick. The Hawks appealed the call, replays showed Randle striking the blow and on reversal he was assessed an offensive foul.

That was Randle’s fourth foul of the game. His fifth was a fourth-quarter flagrant, when he rammed Danilo Gallinari in retribution for a perceived unnecessary shot Gallinari had directed toward New York’s Reggie Bullock.

Gallinari got a two-for-one on that play. In addition to the flagrant that followed, Bullock was assessed a technical for approaching the Hawks during a timeout with menace in his heart (teammates held him back). For his part, Gallinari was called for nothing.

The Knicks leave town having lost twice by double digits — 113-96 Sunday — but still trying to salvage their tough-guy image. “Gallinari had a dirty play,” Randle said afterward. “I can’t let that happen. ... I wasn’t trying to hurt him but in this situation ... you take a hard foul or whatever just to let them know we’re not accepting their (stuff).”

When this series began, one of the central questions was how the young, untested Hawks would respond to the rougher edges of the postseason.

As an answer they will refer you to Collins’ efficient 22-point, eight-rebound performance Sunday in light of the lip.

Or maybe to the second flagrant foul in as many games charged to one of the mildest-mannered of Hawks, Kevin Huerter. Sunday his transgression was a rather comical, rodeo-style bulldogging of Nerlens Noel’s leg.

The lessons of the one game the Hawks have lost in this series, inside an over-heated Madison Square Garden, seem to be lingering.

“I told them the playoffs really started that second game in New York, the game that we lost. That (Knicks) team that came out the second half being physical was the team that we really expected the first game. That’s playoff basketball,” Hawks coach Nate McMillan said.

“We have to be able to bring that game to the floor, which is playing with urgency and being able to play through that,” McMillan added. “It can’t become a distraction to us. I think these guys have shown growth where we’ve taken some hits and some fouls and we’re keeping our heads and been able to get back to playing and the next play. It’s showing growth from this young team.”

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Hawks players John Collins and Trae Young look on as interim head coach Nate McMillan works up a play during the 113-96 Game 4 win over the New York Knicks in their first-round NBA playoff series Sunday, May 30, 2021, at State Farm Arena in Atlanta. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Hawks players John Collins and Trae Young look on as interim head coach Nate McMillan works up a play during the 113-96 Game 4 win over the New York Knicks in their first-round NBA playoff series Sunday, May 30, 2021, at State Farm Arena in Atlanta. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Combined ShapeCaption
Hawks players John Collins and Trae Young look on as interim head coach Nate McMillan works up a play during the 113-96 Game 4 win over the New York Knicks in their first-round NBA playoff series Sunday, May 30, 2021, at State Farm Arena in Atlanta. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

“We saw the film from Game Two and saw how they were playing, what they were doing,” Hawks guard Trae Young said. “We took it upon ourselves to be physical. They want to be physical in the way they’re playing, we have to answer and do the same thing.

“For us, we have to continue to have the same approach and not let up.”

The series returns to New York Wednesday, with the Knicks and their audience facing banishment. If possible, the fight is bound to be more heated. That is not a setting or a situation that suggests meek surrender.

“As I told our guys this (next game) will be the hardest game of the series, the one to close a team out,” McMillan said. “We know they’re going to fight. This will be the hardest game of the series. Yes, I expect it to be physical, expect both teams to come with urgency.”

“I think it’s going to be even more physical, especially at the Garden. It’s going to be a great test for us,” Gallinari predicted.

By then, at least, the swelling should go down.