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Inside look at Knicks-Hawks NBA playoff series

Most NBA scouts view this first-round matchup between playoff neophytes who finished with the same record of 41-31 as the Knicks’ gritty defense versus Atlanta’s finesse-filled offense. But Knicks-Hawks is more than that. The Post’s Marc Berman breaks it down:

Knicks’ 3-point shooting vs. Hawks’ 3-point defense

The 3-point shot has consumed the NBA. The top 12 teams in 3-point shooting percentage each made the playoffs. And the Knicks, shockingly, finished third at 39.2 percent, even though they don’t launch a bunch. That figured as their key weakness. When senior VP William Wesley lobbied in the war room to draft Immanuel Quickley, he bellowed about the need for 3-point shooting. Who knew Julius Randle would jump from 28 percent to 41.1 percent in his seventh season? And RJ Barrett from 33 percent to 40.1 percent? Reggie Bullock, at 41 percent, was one of five Knicks to shoot more than 40 percent. Even Derrick Rose finished at 41.1 percent. It’s probably not a fluke, though one scout said, “Barrett can just as easily go 1-for-7 as 5-for-5.’’ The Hawks defend the line, finishing third in 3-point defense (34.9 percent). Edge: Even

Julius Randle and Trae Young
Julius Randle and Trae Young
Getty Images (2)

Hawks’ 3-point shooting vs. Knicks’ 3-point defense

This might win the Hawks the series with all their trusty 3-point snipers. Under Nate McMillan, they rose in 3-point percentage from 35 percent to 38.7 percent. Trae Young, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Kevin Huerter, Danilo Gallinari and Lou Williams are all sharpshooters. The Knicks have done terrifically denying the 3-point shot and led the league in 3-point defense (33.7 percent). Still, one theory is that a dangerous perimeter shooting team usually trumps 3-point D, especially if Atlanta gets going early in the series. Edge: Atlanta.

Rebounding

Atlanta is clearly the better offensive rebounding team, led by the league leader, center Clint Capela, who averaged 14.3 boards. Knicks undersized centers Nerlens Noel and Taj Gibson each said keeping Capela off the offensive glass is critical. The Knicks have rebounded stoutly (seventh in defensive rebounding), but they miss injured center Mitchell Robinson here. The 7-footer became an excellent rebounder. Remember when David Fizdale called Robinson “The next Capela.’’ Rookie Obi Toppin has progressed, but just for rebounding matters, his minutes may be reduced further for more experienced boardwork in Gibson. Randle led the Knicks at 10.2 rebounds, but hasn’t been an offensive rebounder. Atlanta is not a top defensive rebounding club. Edge: Even

Drawing fouls and shooting free throws

The Knicks believe reducing fouls on Young could be the difference-maker. Young is an expert on drawing fouls and makes 88.6 percent from the stripe. The Hawks are fifth in the league in free-throw shooting at 81 percent. The Knicks improved over last season’s mediocre 69.4 percent but still ranked 14th at 78 percent. Quickley hasn’t been as effective at drawing fouls as early in the season, but he is a terrific free-throw shooter (89.1) Edge: Hawks

Knicks’ ability to get paint points vs. Hawks’ interior defense

This is a Knicks concern as far as their struggling starting point guard, Elfrid Payton. He’s no longer attacking with vigor. And Capela looms large, third in the league in blocks (2.0). The Knicks are ranked 26th in points in the paint. Noel doesn’t get enough garbage buckets/alley-oops. Randle and Rose need to bully to the rim. Hawks versatile forward De’Andre Hunter will loom large as a key Randle stopper and interior presence now that he’s healthy. Edge: Hawks

Hawks’ ability to get paint points vs. Knicks’ interior defense

Atlanta is ranked just 14th in the league in points in the paint as both clubs are more perimeter-oriented. But Young gets his share of floaters in the paint. Noel and Gibson have formed a fierce rim-protection duo. Noel finished second in the league in blocked shots (2.2). Scouts consider Gibson as smart a positional defender as there is in the league. Edge: Knicks

In transition

Knicks are ranked 22nd in the NBA in pace. That’s not a surprise from a Tom Thibodeau offense. He’s a half-court guy who wants dribble-penetration to create double teams and ball movement. Atlanta ranks eighth, but this won’t win a series. Edge: Hawks

Depth/bench

Both teams are deep, but especially the Knicks. Rose is a finalist for Sixth Man of the Year, and if Alec Burks didn’t get COVID-19, he’d be a candidate, too. Scouts feel if the Knicks starters can hold even, their bench will win them games, especially if Quickley is rolling. But the Hawks did a solid by adding Williams at the trade deadline — one of the great bench players of all time. Edge: Knicks

Coaching

This series screams how important coaching is in the NBA. McMillan took over for Lloyd Pierce on March 1 and weaved a 27-11 record after the Hawks were stumbling at 14-20. He’s made Young, in particular, a better decision-maker, and the Hawks have taken care of the ball better with smarter shot selection. Books have been written about Thibodeau changing the Knicks’ culture after being a laughingstock for seven straight non-playoff season. He’s maximized the talent out of this roster that no one had even as a 10th-place play-in team. Edge: Knicks

Intangibles

The bulk core of the Hawks don’t have any playoff experience. At least the Knicks have Rose, Gibson and Bullock. That matters a lot, especially in tight affairs. The Garden will host 15,000 fans — seven times larger than in their previous 22 home games (1,980). Owner James Dolan is giddy about packing the Garden again. Be careful what you wish for: The Knicks have played spectacularly in a very empty Garden. Edge: Knicks

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