There are still two days until the Atlanta Hawks and New York Knicks first-round playoff series kicks off, but a rivalry is already brewing between the two teams.
Game 1 is set for Sunday night, with tip-off slated for 7:00 PM est.
New York swept Atlanta in the three-game season series, with all three wins coming by an average of 8.6 points.
As it stands today, the Knicks are the widespread favorites in the series.
Among the 18 ESPN staff polled, all but three gave New York the series, with Senior Writer Ramona Shelburne going as far as to predict they’d defeat the Hawks in five games.
Apparently, it’s rubbed some folks in Atlanta the wrong way.
Nate McMillan Speaks, Nate McMillan is Fined
In response to the New York Knicks being favored in the series, Atlanta Hawks head coach Nate McMillan told his team that it’s all a part of the NBA’s agenda:
Absolutely, I’ve talked about that to the team a lot. Basically, I’ve gone as far as saying the league wants this. They need this, New York, this is a big market for the league, and New York has been out of the playoffs for a number of years. And this is a team that our league, they want to see — there’s a huge fan base — and they want to see New York in the playoffs.
There’s little doubt that the league thrives when the Knicks are doing well, but they’ve also managed over the last eight years since the team last went to the postseason.
That makes it hard to validate McMillan’s point.
He even suggested that the league shifted Game 1 to the matinee slot on Sunday for the same reason:
The league wants to see it, everybody wants to see this. Even to the fact that our [opening] game was moved to Sunday, they want to see this.
It makes sense, the way McMillan posed this as fuel, a challenge to his team:
It’s a battle, it’s a challenge, just playing New York, all that comes with it. … They’ve had a really good season, and I think the NBA is excited about having them back in the playoffs.
But the NBA doesn’t agree.
Shams Charania of The Athletic reported Thursday that the head coach had been fined $15,000:
Hawks head coach Nate McMillan has been fined $25,000 for detrimental public comments asserting bias by the NBA relating to the 2020-21 playoffs.
— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) May 20, 2021
And thus, a rivalry begins.
Injury Report Update
Ahead of Sunday’s series tip-off, the Atlanta Hawks announced on Thursday that second-year wing and former RJ Barrett teammate Cam Reddish wouldn’t be available for the series.
The 21-year old has been out since late February due to ongoing issues with his right Achilles. Reddish was averaging 11.2 points, four rebounds, 1.3 assists, and 1.3 steals before he went down.
On the New York Knicks’ side of things, there’s still not a timetable on a return for Mitchell Robinson.
As of last week, the third-year big man had resumed on-court work, but head coach Tom Thibodeau made it clear that the team would not be ‘rushing’ him back so he can return for the postseason.
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