Playoffs 2021

NBA Playoffs 2021: New York Knicks vs. Atlanta Hawks series preview

Playoff basketball is back in New York for the first time since 2013 and Atlanta for the first time since 2017.

With the Knicks and Hawks each snapping postseason droughts, these two teams will battle to advance out of the first round of the playoffs since 2013 and 2016, respectively.

NBA.com is your destination for complete coverage of every series from now through the end of the NBA Finals.

Series Schedule

The 2021 NBA Playoffs will begin on Saturday, May 22. All dates and times are Eastern.

  • Game 1 - Sunday, May 23 at 7 p.m.
  • Game 2 - Wednesday, May 26 at 7:30 p.m.
  • Game 3 - Friday, May 28 at 7 p.m.
  • Game 4 - Sunday, May 30 at 1 p.m.
  • Game 5 (if necessary) - TBD
  • Game 6 (if necessary) - TBD
  • Game 7 (if necessary) - TBD

Season Series

Result: Knicks won 3-0

Best game: April 21, 2021 - Knicks 137, Hawks 127 (OT)

Best performance: Julius Randle (April 21, 2020) - 40 points (11-21 FG, 6-8 3PT), 11 rebounds, 6 assists, 1 steal

The Knicks and Hawks met for the first time back on Jan. 4 before anyone knew what their seasons would become. If only we believed what we saw when Julius Randle went for a near-triple-double of 28 points, 17 rebounds and nine assists to lead New York past Atlanta despite 31 points and 14 assists from Trae Young.

The two teams met again on Feb. 15. At that point, both the Knicks (14-15) and Hawks (11-16) were under .500, unsure of what their playoff hopes might be.

New York once again emerged victorious behind another monster performance from Randle, who went for 44 points, nine rebounds and five assists, proving that Atlanta had no answer for the All-Star forward to be. Young finished with 23 points in that game but the Knicks did a fantastic job making life difficult for the star guard, who shot 6-for-19 from the field and just 1-for-4 from 3-point range.

Their final meeting of the season back on April 21 had a playoff-like atmosphere at Madison Square Garden. New York was on a seven-game win streak and Atlanta was heating up, as both teams were separated in the Eastern Conference playoff picture by just a half-game leading into this contest.

The game didn't disappoint, as Bogdan Bogdanovic knocked down a 3-pointer with six seconds remaining in the fourth quarter to send it into overtime. The Knicks took care of business in OT, but if that contest is anything like what this playoff series is about to be, we're in for a treat.

It was Randle again who led New York with 40 points, 11 rebounds and six assists, while the bench tandem of Derrick Rose and rookie Immanuel Quickley went for 20 points apiece. Young had 20 points and 14 assists but was held to another rough shooting night of 6-for-17 from the field. Clint Capela recorded his third double-double against the Knicks this season, but this time, it was a beastly 25 points and 22 rebounds.

Key Storyline: Do the Knicks have enough offence to keep up with the Hawks?

The key question to just about any playoff series New York appears in will be, "do the Knicks have enough offence to keep up with ___?"

The Knicks have been one of the best defensive teams all season long. Their opponent points per game average of 104.7 is the best in the NBA and their defensive rating of 107.8 ranks fourth-best in the league. But New York's offensive rating of 110.2 ranks second-to-last of any team that qualified for the playoffs and its 107.0 points per game ranks in the bottom five in the NBA and dead last among teams that qualified for the playoffs.

The Hawks, on the other hand, boast a top-10 offence, scoring 114.3 points per 100 possessions, but rank in the bottom-half of the league (18th) in defensive rating (112.1).

While New York certainly wants to muddy things up and make this a grind-it-out series, it did a great job keeping pace with Atlanta's offence this season. Two of its seven-best offensive outputs of the year came against the Hawks, averaging 124.3 points per game against its future playoff opponent - well over its season-long average of 107 points per game.

A lot of that had to do with Randle averaging roughly 37 points and seven assists while shooting over 50 percent from the field and 3-point range over those three games, but who else on the Knicks will step up in the postseason to keep up with the Hawks' endless scoring valves?

Atlanta has five different players averaging more points per game than New York's third-highest scorer, and that's not even including players like Danilo Gallinari, Kevin Huerter or Lou Williams, who can get red-hot on any given night. The Knicks will need RJ Barrett to step up on both ends of the floor, while it's imperative that Derrick Rose maintains his offensive output from the home stretch of the season.

A number to know for this series: 113. New York is 20-2 this season when it scores 113 points or more.

This series should be thrilling as a true clash of opposite powers.

Three Players to Watch

Julius Randle, New York Knicks

Randle was unstoppable in the three games against the Hawks this season, averaging 37.3 points, 12.3 rebounds and 6.7 assists while shooting 58.1 percent from the field and 50.0 percent from 3-point range. He went for over 40 points twice, taking it to any matchup the Hawks threw at him.

Atlanta will have to find a way to contain Randle better than it did during the regular season if it's going to steal this series from the higher seed.

Trae Young, Atlanta Hawks

All eyes will be on Young in his first-ever playoff series.

Just one year removed from starting in the All-Star Game, Young was snubbed as an All-Star altogether this season despite his team being much more successful. Coming into his first playoff appearance, the 22-year-old will have a chip on his shoulder as he tries to lead the Hawks out of the first round for the first time since 2015.

Young averaged 24.7 points and 12.0 assists in three games against the Knicks this season, but New York's stout defence made sure it wasn't easy, shooting 36.2 percent from the field and 21.4 percent from 3.

RJ Barrett, New York Knicks

Speaking of first-career playoff series, the Knicks will be asking a lot from second-year guard Barrett in this playoff debut.

As mentioned above, New York will desperately need Barrett to show up offensively if it's going to keep up with Atlanta. The No. 3 overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft averaged 17.2 points per game - good for second best on the team - while improving his efficiency with shooting splits of .441/.401/.746 this season. He'll have to be that good to give the Knicks the scoring punch they need to advance out of the first round for the first time since 2013.

Picks and Predictions

Kyle Irving (@KyleIrv_): Knicks in 7

Gilbert McGregor (@GMcGregor21): Hawks in 7

Scott Rafferty (@crabdribbles): Knicks in 7

Benyam Kidane (@BenyamKidane): Knicks in 7

Kane Pitman (@KanePitman): Hawks in 7

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