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NEW YORK — There is no better indicator of success in the NBA than 3-point percentage. It’s called a make-or-miss league for a reason.
The top-12 teams in 3-point efficiency are all in the playoffs, and the four worst teams finished with the four worst records. For the Knicks, the discrepancy is fairly standard. They shot 42.6% from beyond the arc in their victories and just 32.8% in their defeats.
Which brings us to the franchise’s biggest game in eight years.
There’s no doubt Tom Thibodeau will have meticulously prepared the Knicks for Game 1 on Sunday, utilizing the same game planning and structure that buoyed them to No. 3 in 3-point percentage throughout the league and No. 1 in defensive 3-point percentage.
Reggie Bullock will get his open looks as the Hawks key on Julius Randle. So will RJ Barrett.
But there is the intangible factor that is difficult to predict with this lineup — the nerves and ability to perform under increased pressure. What will be the reaction of the team’s best players, Randle and Barrett, who are making their postseason debuts?
Shots tend to go wayward if the pressure gets too heavy and hesitancy settles in.
“This will be the first time for a lot of the players on the team. So for all of us to be in this position, it means a lot,” Derrick Rose, the Knicks’ most experienced postseason player, said. “I’ve been there a few times at an early age and just the butterflies that you get, the excitement, the anxiety — just everything that comes with playing your first playoff game in a series.”
New York’s starters have combined — COMBINED — for 16 playoff games and 184 minutes. Take out center Nerlens Noel, who rarely shoots outside the paint, and the Knicks starters have four combined playoff games and 27 minutes.
In a normal year, the leap to playoff atmosphere wouldn’t be so dramatic. But the Knicks played all season in a mostly empty home arena, perhaps benefiting from a toned-down MSG. The players will say the opposite about fan presence, of course, but the Knicks had a distinct home-court advantage in the pandemic environment. No playoff team had a higher percentage of its wins come at home than the Knicks, who went 25-11 at MSG and 41-31 overall. Only the Hawks, coincidentally, equaled that 61% of total victories at home.
Now the Garden is increasing its capacity from 2,000 to 15,000 for Game 1, jumping from 10% to 75%. It will be the biggest indoor event in New York since the pandemic crippled the city. People pent up for a year paid an average of $1,453 per ticket in the secondary market, according to TicketIQ.
Talk about a pressure cooker. The players’ reaction in the first quarter will be interesting. Shots tend to go wayward.
“We always say after the first three quarters of the game, the intensity rises in the fourth quarter. The playoff intensity is going to rise even more for the full game,” Randle said. “The intensity man, you’re playing for something, competing for something. One of those things, you might have a bad game or lack of focus one game but can make it up. Every game matters, every possession matters. It all counts.”
Of course, it works both ways. Only one of the Hawks starters — Clint Capela — has playoff experience. Trae Young, Bogdan Bogdanovic and John Collins are all debuting, without a clear idea of how’ll they’ll respond.
“Playing at the Garden in front of all those fans it’s going to be fun, it’s going to be loud,” Young said.
It will be loud. It will also be a test for who can handle the atmosphere and knock down the shots.