The Atlanta Hawks have a series lead over the New York Knicks, but the true test of a team’s mettle lies ahead in Game 6, the team’s “hardest game of the series.”
After a Game 4 victory over the East’s second-best team, the Atlanta Hawks know the hardest game of their series against the New York Knicks comes Tuesday at Philips Arena. The Hawks (3-0) have a commanding 3-0 series lead, but the Knicks (1-1) have a talented roster that includes Carmelo Anthony and Derrick Rose. Game 5 is Saturday at Madison Square Garden, and it will be a battle between two teams playing on adrenaline and a playoff jolt.5:55 PM ET. Andrew Lopez As tough and physical as the first four games of the series against the New York Knicks have been, the Atlanta Hawks know their work isn’t done yet. The Hawks won 113-96 in Atlanta on Sunday in front of 16,458 fans and took a 3-1 lead in the first round, but coach Nate McMillan was quick to remind his team of what awaits them next turn. Like I said to our guys, this is going to be the hardest game of the series to close out the team, McMillan said. We know they will come and fight. This will be the toughest game of the series. I expect it to be physical. I expect both teams to go into the next game with a lot of momentum. The physicality of the series – and also a certain dilemma – was on full display Sunday. During a timeout in the first half, Tre Young of Atlanta and Taj Gibson of New York exchanged words. In the third quarter, Hawks forward John Collins received an elbow strike to the mouth from Knicks forward Julius Randle on a shot attempt. The cut, caused by the collision, had to be stitched with four stitches. At the end of the game, when replay showed Atlanta’s Danilo Gallinari colliding with New York’s Reggie Bullock after a shot under the basket, Bullock ran to the Hawks’ bench during the ensuing timeout and was issued a technical foul. 2 Connected On the Hawks’ next possession of the ball, Randle pushed Gallinari with his forearm as Gallinari defended him, leading to a rude offence from the officials and several cheers and hugs from his teammates. Just trying to get the ball rolling, Young said. I don’t care if they have feelings or who is angry and who is not. At the end of the day, it’s just basketball. We’re just trying to win. Everything useless is what it is. We’re locked in. We are focused on ourselves and trying to win the game. Collins said he was disappointed in the Knicks at the end of the game, but added that he expected this in a playoff series. When you play a team that many times, anything can happen, Collins said. I don’t think these guys are going to like each other at the end of the day, and then New York plays physical basketball. We’re clearly tired of being pushed around, beaten, etc. It is what it is, in a way, boys collide. This is playoff basketball. We just try to avoid the noise and do things. As for the accusation that Bullock was benched, Gallinari said he didn’t even know it happened. Honestly, I just went back to the bench to drink some water, Gallinari said. I wasn’t paying attention to what was happening. But I guess that’s a normal reaction when you lose a game like that. This is to be expected, and it is a good thing. We’re all competitors. We hate to lose. Collins said the Hawks were able to deal with the physicality of the Knicks early in the game, having gone into the game thinking they wouldn’t be overwhelmed by the Knicks’ style. It also helped that Young continued to play exceptionally well in the playoffs. Young had 27 points and nine assists and led the team in both categories. In fact, Young led the Hawks in points and assists in all four playoff games. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Young became only the second player in NBA history to accomplish this feat in the first four playoff games of his career, following Hall of Fame player Dave Bing, who accomplished the feat with the Detroit Pistons in 1968. Elias also noted that Young scored 204 points in his first four playoff games, the second most by a player in the last 25 seasons. But perhaps most important to the Hawks’ success was the team’s ability to earn minutes when Young was not in the game. In the three regular season games against New York in which Atlanta lost, the Hawks were +16 when Young was on the court and -42 when he was on the bench. This episode was different. The Hawks earned minutes on the bench in Game 1 and 3, which they won, and lost in Game 2 at Madison Square Garden. On Sunday, Atlanta managed to tie the score when Young fouled out, but that was mostly due to minutes played by the reserves late in the game. The Hawks led by more than nine points before emptying their bench with 3:05 remaining in the game. Young and the Hawks now return to New York, where Young was the object of ridicule from New York fans in the first two games. And just like in the first game, they will try to put the crowd at ease one last time. The last is obviously the hardest. This last point will be the most difficult, according to Young. We know they will probably be a little more physical and aggressive and play with more energy. But we must do the same. We cannot be satisfied with what we have accomplished at home. We need to put more energy on the road.