We stipulate that any Game 7 is an entity unto itself, and seven is an odd number. That said, the Francis formula holds. Game 2 in this series was immense for the Knicks, and they won it. Game 4 is a leviathan for both sides. If the Hawks win, the Knicks are in elimination mode. If the Knicks win, the series resets – and they’ll have reclaimed the home-court edge.
Over these three games, we’ve seen how gifted and deep these Hawks are. They seem the better team, and not by a little. But will this youngish crew commit the youthful transgression of believing that talent will be enough?
One of the many fine things about Nate McMillan is that he was an NBA player for 12 seasons before he became a head coach. He knows what traps await youngish players because he was one.
Hawks coach Nate McMillan shouts instruction during the second half in Game 3. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)
Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC
Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC
Speaking Saturday, McMillan said: “We talk about things like that (mindset management). We have our veterans talk to the team about where we are. I really try to prepare the team for where they are and what they need to do in the game that’s coming up.”
When you’re up 2-1 and the second victory came much easier than the first, it’s human nature to look ahead. If the Hawks take Round 1, they’ll surely face Philadelphia, the East’s No. 1 seed. But you can’t start worrying about Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons before you dispose of Randle and Barrett.
Said McMillan: “We’re really just trying to look toward tomorrow’s game and not get too far ahead here.”
Then: “This is something we’ve worked on with this team – being calm, really for 48 minutes. Always refocus and get back to being clear about what you need to do out on the floor and staying connected. It’s something we talk about every day and before every game.”
Through three games, the Hawks have looked rattled only for the five minutes and 46 seconds bridging the third and four quarters when Young and Bogdan Bogdanovic were sitting. In Game 3, McMillan made sure that one of the two always was on the court. Result: A 12-point victory, as opposed to a wasted 15-point lead. That’s the kind of flexibility a playoff coach must have. You can’t wait to fix what didn’t work.
The Hawks have reason to believe they’re the superior team in this series. The Knicks are fortunate not to be down 3-0. But they’ll try to ugly it up and outfight the Hawks in Game 4, and if they’re successful they’ll be buoyed by the knowledge that games 5 and 7 would be staged in Madison Square Garden. The Hawks’ mission is to ensure there’s not a Game 7. If they prevail Sunday, there won’t be.