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Hawks maximize every advantage vs. Knicks in Game 3

After three games, the Hawks have emerged as the best offensive and defensive team in their matchup with the Knicks.

John Schuhmann

John Schuhmann

The Hawks outscored the Knicks 29-13 in the second quarter on their way to a 105-94 win as Atlanta takes a 2-1 lead in the series.

Game 3 of the first round series between the New York Knicks and Atlanta Hawks was the first of six meetings between these two teams that wasn’t within five points in the last five minutes.

The Hawks took control with a 22-3 run in the second quarter, and the Knicks never threatened after that. Atlanta had managed to both create more advantages and do more with them, taking a 2-1 series lead with Friday’s 105-94 victory.

Maybe the advantage for the offense is, simply, one of the man-up matchups on the floor. But the offense usually requires some sort of play or basic action to gain an advantage — a driving lane, an open shot or layup.

Sometimes, the initial advantage is the thing: A high ball-screen could lead to a pull-up 3 for Damian Lillard. And sometimes, the initial advantage is the thing that leads to the thing: A screen could force the defense to bring an extra guy to the ball, leaving somebody else open.

Here’s how the Hawks gained their openings, and denied the Knicks equal opportunity:

Advantage, Hawks

Great players can get you points when you don’t have much of an advantage. And a stretch of six straight Atlanta scores got started when Trae Young drained a long 3 late in the shot clock after the Knicks defended well for 20 seconds.

Advantage don’t always lead to points. A few possessions after Young’s 3, a Derrick Rose drive drew two defenders and Taj Gibson missed a point-blank and uncontested tip-in. To complicate things for the Knicks, that miss led to an advantage for the Hawks, with Young pushing the ball up the floor into a mismatch with Julius Randle.

Young took Randle off the dribble and collapsed the defense, creating two advantages: First, a wide-open 3 for John Collins. Second, another mismatch: Rose trying to box out Clint Capela, who tipped in Collins’ miss:

Clint Capela tip-in

On the next possession, Young gained an advantage by rejecting a Capela screen, turning the corner on Rose, and drawing Randle and RJ Barrett from the weak side. He kicked the ball out to Collins for another open 3 from the right corner.

An advantage doesn’t need to be big. Later in the second quarter, a “floppy” action had Bogdan Bogdanovic curling off a Danilo Gallinari screen. With Rose trailing around the screen, Reggie Bullock pinched off of Young to prevent a Bogdanovic 3. Bogdanovic quickly got the ball back to Young. Bullock recovered, but flew by Young. That had Rose taking a step toward the ball, and Young quickly got it back to Bogdanovic for an open shot:

Bogdan Bogdanovic 3-pointer

No advantage, Knicks

On the other end of the floor, the Knicks scored just 94 points on 94 possessions. Those struggles were about both the Hawks’ ability to prevent advantage situations and the Knicks’ inability to make the most of the ones they gained.

The Knicks’ one bucket on that 22-3 Atlanta run was a late-clock Bullock 3 that came after the Hawks’ blew up an after-timeout play. Less than two minutes later, the Hawks blew up another ATO.

Bullock swung the ball to Randle on the left side of the floor and then set a double-screen with Gibson to get Randle going toward the middle. But Collins “iced” the screen to keep Randle on the side of the floor (this has been the Hawks’ strategy all series). When Gibson flipped his screen, Capela was there with a switch. Young got in Bullock’s shirt on his corner catch and then Randle has the ball on the wing with five seconds on the shot clock and no advantage having been gained:

Knicks after timeout play

Randle was able to to beat Capela off the dribble and draw Collins off of Gibson on the baseline. Bogdanovic rotated down to Gibson, but when Randle kicked the ball out to Barrett on the right wing, Bogdanovic made a strong close-out and the shot clock expired before Barrett could get to his step-in jumper.

Knicks 24-second violation

The Knicks ranked fourth defensively this season, while the Hawks ranked 18th. But Atlanta has been the better defensive team in this series.

Advantage, lost

And the Knicks have been the worse offensive team to boot. Gibson as the starting center — he and Rose moved into the starting lineup in Game 3 — and primary screen-setter is an issue, because he isn’t much of a threat on the roll. Sometimes, he doesn’t roll at all and allows Capela to stop the ball with no need to worry about his own man:

Gibson doesn't roll

The Knicks have also made minimal effort to put Young in pick-and-roll situations defensively. The Hawks’ star has been able to defend Bullock without worrying much about needing to switch onto Rose or Randle. According to Second Spectrum tracking, Bullock has set just 18 (6%) of the Knicks’ 288 ball screens through the first three games.

The Knicks have still had opportunities. Later in that second period on Friday, Randle was able to gain another advantage by beating Gallinari off the dribble. Capela stepped up and Randle dropped the ball off to Gibson on the baseline. Bogdanovic rotated down off Barrett again, and when Capela recovered, Gibson had two defenders on him:

Gibson with two defenders

Gibson wasn’t able to find an open Barrett in the corner, but when he got the ball back to Randle, De’Andre Hunter was still guarding two Knicks on the right side of the floor, with Bogdanovic on the left side of the restricted area:

Hunter guarding two

If Randle quickly swung the ball to Rose or skipped it over to Barrett, the Knicks probably would have gotten an open shot (either on Randle’s initial pass or one more swing). Instead he backed out (allowing Bogdanovic to recover with minimal effort), isolated against Gallinari, and took a contested fadeaway jumper off one foot…

Randle isolation vs. Gallinari

When you gain an advantage, you have to,well … take advantage of it.

The greatness of Trae Young is more about his playmaking than his shooting. When he draws an extra defender to the ball, he sees the floor and usually makes an effective pass. Julius Randle has made progress in that regard this season, but he’s not yet at Young’s level.

These teams will have a relatively quick turnaround before Game 4 on Sunday (1 ET, ABC). To even the series, the Knicks will have to find more advantages offensively. And then do more with them.

John Schuhmann is a senior stats analyst for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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