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This intangible has played a big part in this Knicks run
Coaches always will tell you that winning a playoff series never is about stopping one opposing player, but Tom Thibodeau and the Knicks certainly are devising a game plan they hope will combat explosive point guard Trae Young during their first-round playoff series against the Hawks.
The Knicks actually had decent success against the emerging Atlanta star in winning all three games during the regular season, holding him to 36.2 percent shooting and just 3-for-14 (21.4 percent) from 3-point land.
“Just try to limit [him]. He draws a lot of fouls. You have to limit those. That’s going to be it. Just try to make it tough on him without fouling,” Knicks guard RJ Barrett said Thursday when asked about Young. “Definitely, that’s what this week is for: watching film, studying, every day, learning all of their plays, all of that.”
The 22-year-old Young averaged 25.3 points per game in his third NBA season, down a few points from last year’s breakout output, when he finished fourth in the league scoring race with 29.6 per appearance.
Still, only Wizards triple-double machine Russell Westbrook dished out more assists this season than Young’s career-best average of 9.7 dimes per outing.
“He starts their offense. They kind of go as he goes,” Knicks point guard Elfrid Payton said. “It’s going to be a team effort as always when you go against good players. I think we’ll be ready.”
Like emerging Knicks such as Julius Randle, Barrett, Immanuel Quickley and others, Young will be making his postseason debut, along with teammates John Collins, Onyeka Okongwu, Kevin Huerter and De’Andre Hunter.
Young scored at least 20 points in each of Atlanta’s three losses to the Knicks, but he was held to shooting nights of 9-for-22 on Jan. 4, 6-for-19 on Feb. 15 and 6-for-17 before leaving with an ankle injury in the Knicks’ comeback win in overtime on April 21.
As Barrett mentioned, Young still made his mark in those games at the free-throw line, getting to the stripe 34 times and knocking down 29 of his attempts. The 85.3 percent conversion rate was just a shade below his excellent season average of 88.6 percent, 14th-best in the league.
Young’s 8.7 free-throw attempts per game were behind only Joel Embiid, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Zion Williamson league-wide.
Thibodeau mentioned earlier this week the possibility of Frank Ntilikina earning an expanded role because he’s had some success guarding Young in the past. The former lottery pick didn’t dress for the first two meetings this season due to injury, however, and he was available but didn’t play in the April victory for the Knicks.
The Knicks only allowed 30 or more points to a guard once over their final 20 regular-season games; Devin Booker of the Suns registered 33 on April 26.
Defensively, the Knicks also ranked first in the NBA in points allowed (104.7 ppg), field-goal percentage allowed (44.0 percent) and 3-point percentage allowed (33.7 percent).
Backup center Taj Gibson took the “team effort” mantra a step further, saying even those on the Knicks’ bench can aid in the effort to slow Young and an Atlanta offense that averaged 113.7 points a game this season.
“To be honest with you, it’s really going to take all 15 guys,” Gibson said. “It’s going to take our bench talking and calling out plays the way we’ve been doing all year. It’s going to take all five guys keying in and trying to protect the paint, all five guys pushing out and running and trying to run guys off of long-range screens, rebounding the ball. It’s really going to take a whole group collective.”
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