Up 1-0, the Hawks face a grand opportunity in Game 2

New York Knicks' Frank Ntilikina (right) guards Atlanta Hawks' Trae Young during the second half of Game 1 of first-round playoff series, Sunday, May 23, 2021, in New York. The Hawks won 107-105. (Seth Wenig/AP)
New York Knicks' Frank Ntilikina (right) guards Atlanta Hawks' Trae Young during the second half of Game 1 of first-round playoff series, Sunday, May 23, 2021, in New York. The Hawks won 107-105. (Seth Wenig/AP)

Credit: Seth Wenig

Credit: Seth Wenig

After Game 1, Nate McMillan voiced — at least in those moments when he wasn’t singing the praises of Trae Young — what’s usually a losing coach’s lament. “We missed a lot of shots,” McMillan said, more than once. Only his team didn’t lose. It won on Young’s floater with 0.9 seconds remaining.

McMillan’s Hawks missed 48 of their 90 shots, 22 of their 36 3-point tries. Danilo Gallinari tried seven treys. He made one. Bogdan Bogdanovic missed his first four. He made three of four over the final 8-1/2 minutes. Each of Bogdanovic’s 3-pointers was vital. The first cut a six-point lead in half. The second put the Hawks ahead with 3:40 left. The third tied the game inside the last minute.

The Hawks made 11 of 17 fourth-quarter shots, plus all nine of their free throws. They weren’t unnerved by the Knicks’ defense or the Madison Square Garden roar. If you hadn’t known this was the Hawks’ first postseason game since 2017, you wouldn’t have guessed it by the way they played. Thing is, they can play better.

Bogdanovic’s biggest moment came when he seized a Young pass that glanced off RJ Barrett in the corner, set his feet and — with the Hawks trailing by three inside the final minute — let it fly. If the shot misses, the Hawks are in trouble. It didn’t miss. The Hawks didn’t trail again.

And here’s the thing: Sunday marked Bogdanovic’s first playoff game. Of the 10 Hawks who played, six were postseason newbies. Those first-timers accounted for 75 of the Hawks’ 107 points and 13 of their 17 assists. To borrow from the Who, the kids were all right.

The struggle between now and Wednesday’s Game 2 — for us on the periphery and for the Hawks themselves — is not to get fat and sassy. They need to win three more times to see Round 2. Sure, you’d rather be the Hawks than the Knicks today, but come Thursday morning this series could be all square headed to State Farm Arena.

Knicks fans - including actor Tracy Morgan (bottom, center) - rise to their feet as the Knicks gained the lead near the closing minutes of Game 1 of the first-round playoff series against the Atlanta Hawks, Sunday, May 23, 2021, in New York. The Hawks' Trae Young scored with 0.9 seconds left to give Atlanta a 107-105 win. (Seth Wenig/AP)
Knicks fans - including actor Tracy Morgan (bottom, center) - rise to their feet as the Knicks gained the lead near the closing minutes of Game 1 of the first-round playoff series against the Atlanta Hawks, Sunday, May 23, 2021, in New York. The Hawks' Trae Young scored with 0.9 seconds left to give Atlanta a 107-105 win. (Seth Wenig/AP)

Credit: Seth Wenig

Credit: Seth Wenig

Still, Julius Randle and Barrett and Immanuel Quickley are new to this, too. That’s why the Knicks were a more inviting draw than the Bucks or the Heat. Talent-wise, the Hawks seem slightly the better team. The Knicks ask a lot of Derrick Rose, who was playing against Atlanta in postseason a decade ago. (He had 44 points in Game 3 here. His Bulls lost Game 1 at home but won in six.) The Knicks led the league in field-goal-percentage defense and points-against-per game. The Hawks bettered both numbers in Game 1 — not by a lot, but by enough to win on the road.

Tom Thibodeau will tweak matters for Game 2. The Knicks’ defense against Young on the game-winning shot boiled down to hoping he missed from the lane, which he didn’t. Said McMillan: “He took what the defense gave him, and they gave him single coverage.” When one man essentially beats you — Young scored or assisted on 21 of the Hawks’ final 24 points — you try running a second defender at him, which is where other Hawks stand to benefit.

Which was why McMillan kept mentioning the makeable shots his men missed. Young could find rougher going in Game 2, but the Hawks have options aplenty. Since both got healthy, Bogdanovic and Gallinari have been making defenses pay. John Collins can get 20 in a hurry. Clint Capela had a quiet night Sunday — he scored nine points, taking seven shots — but he’s a terrific counterpoint to the Hawks’ many perimeter shooters.

The Hawks should feel proud of their Sunday showing. They must also realize that Game 2, massive for any Game 1 loser, presents a real opportunity for the Game 1 winner. If the Hawks come home up 2-0, they mightn’t see — or hear — the MSG crowd again this spring. This sounds as if we’re getting ahead of ourselves, but we’re not. It’s simple math. If they rise to the moment Wednesday, they’re halfway to Round 2.

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