2021 Playoffs: East First Round | Knicks vs. Hawks

Garden gets rockin' as Knicks deliver emotional win

New York rallies past Atlanta in Game 2 to even the series in front of an electric crowd at Madison Square Garden.

Shaun Powell

Shaun Powell

Derrick Rose charges up the Knicks in Game 2, scoring 26 points to fuel a comeback victory vs. the Hawks.

The best news to emerge from Wednesday’s nights game at Madison Square Garden is the guarantee there will be at least another game at Madison Square Garden.

The New York Knicks took care of that by swallowing a bottle full of rally pills and wiping away a 15-point halftime deficit to beat the Atlanta Hawks. It was a collective effort by the home team, which can’t match the Hawks for talent yet will bring all the grit that reflects the attitude in these mean New York streets.

The first-round series is now 1-1 after the Knicks’ 101-92 win, and again, this means there will be a Game 5 for Garden fans, who are the clear stars of this show, with all due respect to Trae Young.

What we’re witnessing in the Garden is the emotion that results when worlds collide inside a basketball arena. These worlds are named Frustration, Starvation, Hope, Anger, Joy and Ego. Basketball fans in this town and specifically for this team have shown vivid signs of all six, mainly because the Knicks have endured a pair of lost decades and therefore the population has temporarily lost its minds right now. That’s why the atmosphere for these games is throbbing.

If you cannot sympathize with what these people have been put through, then maybe you can try to understand. With the brief lifespan of the early Carmelo Anthony Era, and the sickness of Linsanity, the Garden hasn’t exactly been Eden. The Knicks went 20 years and won just five playoff games. They went 20 years and missed the playoffs 15 times. They went 20 years and drastically reduced the need for the TV cameras to show Spike Lee at courtside.

Relive some of the best MSG crowd reactions from Game 2

Do you realize what that’s done to this town? Oh, and here’s what’s worse: The Knicks during this time were irrelevant. They didn’t matter. The so-called Big-Market Advantage turned to vapor. And nobody wanted to play for the Knicks, at least none of the big stars, who gave the idea the Bronx cheer. 

Wasn’t it hilarious and curious when series spectator LeBron James tweeted Wednesday how “that joint rockin’?” Isn’t this the same LeBron who turned down the chance to join this joint not once, but twice, when he came to and left Miami? His Lakers co-star, Anthony Davis, also wanted no part of the Knicks after he soured on New Orleans. Kyrie Irving grew up just across the Hudson River and he signed up for Brooklyn instead.

And that, really, is the coldest slap in the face. Kevin Durant started a Brooklyn migration when he chuckled at the idea of playing for the Knicks and this led him, Irving and James Harden to form a superteam that’s officially in the city but most New York basketball fans will tell you the Nets, formerly of New Jersey, are not of the city.

Now, maybe a championship will change that perception of the Nets. And if it happens, that, too, will be a gut-punch to the Knicks, who haven’t had a parade down Broadway since 1973.

So you can understand why the fans here are over the top for a Knicks team that is still under construction and not close to being a contender. That doesn’t matter right now. Julius Randle, fresh off winning the Kia Most Improved Player award, cannot pick up a dinner tab in Manhattan. Derrick Rose is cheered here almost as hard as he was back in his hometown of Chicago when he played for the Bulls. Tom Thibodeau is the coach the Knicks deserve after Derek Fisher, Jeff Hornacek, Kurt Rambis and David Fizdale all fizzled.

It was perfect timing that the increased vaccinations and the relaxation of protocols and rules against capacity crowds happened just when the NBA playoffs started and the Knicks opened with the Hawks. For once, the Basketball Gods were aligned in the Knicks’ favor.

Game 2 Recap: Knicks 101, Hawks 92

OK, reality: There’s a chance, and perhaps a good one, that the Knicks don’t escape the first round and Young continues to perplex them and the Hawks seize control of this series in Atlanta, which doesn’t begin to compare, mania-wise, to the Garden. The Knicks, upon close inspection, are a collection of mainly role players at this stage of their development. If you place the hand of their most rabid believers on a Bible, even they would admit this isn’t a special team.

Anyway, they will cheer for Randle, and when Obi Toppin spikes a lob pass through the hoop, and when Reggie Bullock hits open 3s, and after Taj Gibson blue-collars his way to another offensive rebound, and once Alec Burks scores off the dribble. They will do so because of those colliding worlds inside the Garden.

Game 5 is next week, two games away. By then, the Garden voices will be desperate or bloodthirsty. Either way, they will be thunderous and eventually hoarse. To paraphrase someone who stiffed the Knicks, that joint will be rockin.

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Shaun Powell has covered the NBA for more than 25 years. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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