We may have overrated this Knicks team in the playoffs. We may have been carried away with our hearts. We got caught up with the moment after the Knicks qualified for the playoffs for the first time since 2013. We enjoyed it too much to not deal with reality, and there should be no apology for it.
But reality has now set in. This Knicks team is good enough to win in the regular season, but they are not built for the playoffs. It’s not realistic to think they can get by against the Philadelphia 76ers, Milwaukee Bucks or Brooklyn Nets if they advance. Shoot, they are struggling against the Atlanta Hawks.
Knicks fans reached that epiphany after they saw their team take a 105-94 loss to the Hawks on Friday night at State Farm Arena. The Hawks now take a 2-1 series lead, and quite frankly, the Hawks should be up by three games in this series considering the Knicks played awful in all three games.
Knicks fans expect the Knicks to bounce back in Game 4 to even the series. This team has been resilient all season. They are going by faith and belief. Maybe it happens, but can any Knicks fan honestly think the Knicks can win the series if this series turns out to be the best of three?
This series comes down to star power.
The Hawks have a shooter that is a difference-maker in Trae Young, who scored 21 points. The Knicks don’t have a closer that can help them survive or get by despite struggling as we saw in the first half of Friday night’s game. The Hawks surround Young with many good shooters in Lou Williams, Bogdan Bogdanovic and Danilo Gallinari, which explains why the Hawks star dished out 14 assists. The Knicks don’t even have any shooters based on an inept 35.8 percent shooting performance in Game 3.
Here’s the moral of the story: The Knicks can win by grit, moxie and guile in the regular season, but come playoff time, if they don’t have a star that can win the game by himself, they are not going far in the playoffs. Playoffs require a star.
The Knicks haven’t had that since Patrick Ewing was traded in 2000. Of course, Ewing was in the twilight of his career.
Sorry, but Julius Randle and RJ Barrett aren’t those stars. 32-year-old Derrick Rose may play like a star, but he logged on so many minutes in his career to be the player he was. If a Knicks fan is thinking Immanuel Quickley can grow up to be like one, he or she is hoping.
The Knicks star could be someone from another team via trade. Can anyone say Donovan Mitchell or Damian Lillard? He could also come from free agency. Can anyone say Kawhi Leonard?
Tom Thibodeau, Leon Rose and William Wesley are realistic to know the Knicks can’t have the same roster next season or after that. They know this is not the roster to win a championship. There was a reason why they tried to improve the roster this offseason by trying to acquire Chris Paul out of Oklahoma City. They talked about wanting a star before the season started.
If they wondered if Randle is that guy, he validated their thinking by his awful performance so far in the playoffs. He scored 14 points on 2-of-15 shooting. He struggled to score in the paint, and he couldn’t shoot. He couldn’t give the Knicks an answer when the Hawks were shooting from downtown. This comes after he scored 15 points on 6-of-23 shooting in Game 1 and 15 points on 5-of-16 shooting in Game 2. Overall, he shot 24 percent in the series.
This does not get Randle a lucrative contract extension. If anything, he could be traded this offseason.
Barrett shoots well against awful teams, but when it comes to playing against elite teams, he comes up lame. He finished with seven points on 2-of-9 shooting in Game 3. This comes after he scored 14 points on 6-of-15 shooting in Game 1 and 13 points on 5-of-14 shooting.in Game 2.
This should make the Knicks brain trust wonder if he is a guy the team should build around. There is a reason he was a consolation prize as the No. 3 pick for the Knicks after losing out on the No. 1 pick (Zion Williamson) to the New Orleans Pelicans and the No. 2 pick (Ja Morant) to the Memphis Grizzlies in the draft lottery. If the Knicks got the No. 1 or 2 pick, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant would take their talent to Manhattan rather than toiling in obscurity in Brooklyn. Barrett is not a star that would bring either or both to the Knicks.
The Knicks sophomore might be a role player at best. He could be a nice complementary player for a contender one day, but he isn’t going to be a star. He may have to develop elsewhere to be where he wants to be.
The Knicks needed someone to step up when the game seemed to get away late in the second quarter. They didn’t, and that’s why the Hawks finished the second half with a 22-3 run that had the Hawks lead 58-44 at halftime.
The Knicks defense played no better. They let the Hawks get second-chance scoring too many times and the Hawks scored off that. But that’s the least of the Knicks’ problems.
They need to know who they can trust to have the ball in a tight playoff game. That’s their main problem right now.
In three games, they really don’t have one. Talk about Rose all you want, but he ran out of fuel after starting the game. He finished with 30 points, but he didn’t do much late in the game. There’s a reason Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau prefers to start Rose off the bench than start him. He started Rose out of desperation to get the Knicks going. It really didn’t work out that much.
Maybe Randle and Barrett figure it out. They are going to have to start with Game 4 and the rest of the series. They have no more room for error.
The Knicks have no choice but to win and lose with those much-maligned two. It’s too late to try anything different at this point. This series comes down to those two.
Whatever happens, the Knicks know they are going to have to search for a star that can have them go far in the future and win that elusive championship that is 48 years and counting.
It’s not happening with this roster from what we saw in the first three playoff games.