Knicks avoid late collapse vs. Hawks to earn first win of season

ATLANTA — A needlessly difficult victory is still a victory. 

“I prefer that result over the first night,” a smiling Tom Thibodeau said. 

The Knicks avoided an epic collapse while riding big nights from Jalen Brunson and RJ Barrett to a 126-120 win at State Farm Arena. 

The visitors led through most of the evening and held a seven-point edge with 45 seconds remaining.

Then consecutive Knicks turnovers gave new life to the Hawks, who came within one dunk of tying the game but watched Clint Capela mishandle a lob with about 17 seconds remaining. 

Julius Randle grabbed the rebound, hit a pair of clutch free throws and the Knicks escaped. 

“We made it more difficult on ourselves,” Brunson said, “but we prevailed.” 

Until that point, the storyline was about the point guards with Brunson beating Young at his own game.

Young, the willing villain to Knicks fans, struggled offensively and displayed his usual olé defense. Brunson countered a career-high with eight treys and finished with 31 points. 

Jalen Brunson led the Knicks with 31 points in their victory against the Hawks on Friday.
NBAE via Getty Images

“The ball was going in. Maybe one or two bad 3s, but they’re all kind of in rhythm,” said Brunson, who redeemed himself after a Game 1 dud from two nights prior. “It’s the right shot at the right moment. So, I just gotta keep building on that and get my 2-pointers back.” 

Barrett, meanwhile, was an all-around force with 26 points in 34 minutes. Randle again struggled with his shot but helped in other ways, namely as a distributor, and fell one assist short of a triple-double with 17 points and 12 rebounds. 

All around the roster, it was a sound offensive performance with 30 team assists. The ball was moving. 

“I thought our guys showed a lot of toughness. We got great performances from a number of people,” Thibodeau said. “I thought Julius was terrific, just trusting the pass when they collapsed on him, just spraying it out. Jalen, huge game. RJ, huge game. All three of them.” 

Trae Young had 18 points on just 4-for-16 shooting from the field.
NBAE via Getty Images

Young, meanwhile, rode the struggle bus while getting locked up by Quentin Grimes, the Knicks’ top perimeter defender. Young had 18 points on just 4-of-16 shooting. 

“That’s what I love about Quentin — and not just Quentin, but [Immanuel] Quickley, too,” Thibodeau said. “Some of it is missing shots [Young] normally makes. You have to have that type of discipline. It takes a lot of energy also. I thought those two guys were terrific. A player like that commands so much attention that you need entire team to work at it.” 

It was also a redemptive performance from Donte DiVincenzo.

R.J. Barrett put up 26 points for the Knicks as they secured their first victory of the 2023-24 season.
Getty Images

After going scoreless two days earlier in his debut, the backup guard nailed the first shot of his Knicks career in the first quarter and proceeded to cook.

He went 4-for-4 in the first half and finished with 16 points in 20 minutes. 

It was encouraging for many moments and scary in the final seconds, when passes from Brunson to Barrett and Grimes went out of bounds. 

“We’ve got to close a game better than that,” Barrett said. “I’ve got to step to the ball., trying to receive the ball. That was on me. We’ve just got to close better. Second game of the season so things like that are to be expected right now. But we’ve got to try to clean that up as quick as we can.”


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