Heading into Game 1 of their Eastern Conference first-round series, Atlanta Hawks big man Clint Capela hinted that his team had a “pretty good idea” of how to stop New York Knicks All-Star forward Julius Randle, who ripped through the Hawks during three regular-season meetings.
After the Hawks’ 107-105 Game 1 win on Sunday night, Capela wasn’t wrong — at least so far.
Randle was held to just 15 points on 6-of-24 shooting while struggling to find much space on the floor to work with.
“I knew they were going to do that,” Randle said. “I still liked the shots and opportunities I got. There are no excuses. I don’t really care what they did. I just have to go back and look at the film.
“I just have to figure out a way to make it a little bit easier and adjust for [Game 2].”
The Knicks’ second unit attempted to pick Randle up, specifically Alec Burks — who scored 18 of his 27 points in the fourth quarter — and Derrick Rose, who added 17 coming off the bench for the uninspiring Elfrid Payton.
“They loaded up on him pretty good,” Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau said. “We anticipated that. We have to trust the pass, the game will tell you the play. They put two on him, we hit the open man, and it should be easy offense from there.”
While Thibodeau praised Randle’s ability to move the ball toward better scoring positions, he admitted that he might have been a little too willing to pass the ball.
“I think he knew going in that it would be like this,” Thbodeau confirmed. “If he’s getting double-teamed like that, he’s dealt with it all season long. So just trust the pass. There may have been opportunities where he was too unselfish. I want to take a look at that as well.”
Randle didn’t disagree.
“There were probably a couple opportunities that I might have had that I passed up,” he said. “I gotta game, I gotta feel it out a little bit, and I’ll adjust… I might’ve done too much trying to prepare and I have to tail it back a little bit.”
There’s no other way to dice it: the Knicks will go as far as Randle will take them. He’s been their bonafide No. 1 man all season and he’ll have to be just that in the postseason if they want to go far — or at least see the second round and keep this pseudo-Cinderella season alive.
“I’m not making any excuses. I have to be better. I will be better. And I’ll just leave it at that,” Randle said. “We knew coming in that it’d be a tough series. That’s why you have to be strong-minded, level-headed, even-keel, and realize that it was just the first of four.”
Game 2 at Madison Square Garden tips off on Wednesday night at 7:30 p.m. ET.