On Sunday, almost eight years to the day since the last time it happened — May 16, 2013 — the Knicks had a chance to win a playoff game inside Madison Square Garden. As usual, they didn’t. And shockingly enough, Knicks fans are dumbfounded about how this happened, as if this isn’t a franchise that hasn’t been to the Finals since 1999 (and even that was a miracle, as they were the eighth seed).
The lasting pain that New Yorkers woke up with on Monday morning is proof that Nate McMillan’s $25,000 fine from the league was uncalled for, as the Hawks head coach’s pockets were lighter due to him telling the truth.
“Basically, I’ve gone as far as saying the league wants this,” McMillan said last week about the Knicks finally being back in the playoffs. “They need this, New York, this is a big market for the league, and New York has been out of the playoffs for a number of years.”
“The league wants to see it, everybody wants to see this,” he added “Even to the fact that our [opening] game was moved to Sunday, they want to see this.”
McMillan isn’t lying. The league made sure the Knicks and the Lakers both played on Sunday in the opening weekend of the postseason, which was a smart business decision. According to Forbes, the Knicks are the third most valuable team in sports at $5 billion, while the Lakers ranked seventh at $4.6 billion. There’s nothing wrong with putting your show ponies out front and center.
But, back to The Garden — it was rocking on Sunday. It was loud, the organ was going, and Spike Lee and 15,000 of his friends were glad to be back inside of the “World’s Most Famous Arena” for a game that actually mattered. And then Trae Young went full Reggie Miller and cut their hearts out.
“Everybody’s chanting F-you. ... It got real quiet at the end, and I wanted to hear those F-you chants again,” said Young after his floater with 0.9 seconds left gave Atlanta the 107-105 win and an early series 1-0 lead.
Young finished with 32 points, 10 assists, and 7 rebounds and joined LeBron James as the only players to drop 30-10-5 in their postseason debut. In fact, most of the young stars making playoff debuts over the weekend had big games. Devin Booker went for 34 points, 8 assists, and 7 rebounds in Phoenix, and his teammate Deandre Ayton had 21 points and 16 boards. And out in Utah, the Memphis Grizzlies won Game One on the road behind Ja Morant and Dillon Brooks combining for 57 points in their first playoff game.
But, do you know who isn’t on that list?
In his best John Starks imitation, Randle was a woeful 6-of-23 from the field and finished with 15 points and 12 rebounds in 36 minutes. And this is not to say that Randle isn’t a really good player and won’t bounce back. It just needs to be stated after Knicks fans were publicly saying absurd things about him a few weeks ago.
With Game 2 on Wednesday, both teams have more than enough time to make adjustments. But given how things have gone for the Knicks, Wednesday night could be one of the most important games in the last 20 years of the franchise’s history, as heading to Atlanta down 0-2 would be a death sentence.
Knicks fans, there is hope. Unfortunately, it all rides on the shoulders of Julius Randle and RJ Barrett — two players that have never won a playoff game. Which, considering who the Knicks have always been, makes all the sense in the world.