Trailing 1-0 in the first-round series, the Knicks were down 15 points late in the second quarter Wednesday night in Game 2.
Julius Randle was horrendous again, and Trae Young, Atlanta’s superstar point guard, was soaring in the face of the Garden’s derogatory chants.
But it all changed dramatically in the second half. Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau finally started Derrick Rose at point guard to begin the third quarter and gritty Taj Gibson at center, and regular-season Randle showed up as the Knicks rallied for a resounding 101-92 victory before a rocking 15,000-plus fans at the Garden.
Rose scored 26 points, Randle fired in 13 of his 15 points in the second half and Reggie Bullock awakened from 3. The Knicks showed immense force, grabbing all loose balls and evened the best-of-seven series at one game apiece. The series shifts to Atlanta for Friday’s Game 3.
Randle finally found his mojo, barreling to the basket for buckets and drilling a 3-pointer on the first possession of the second half after the Knicks trailed by 13 at intermission.
Bullock, who didn’t have a 3-pointer in Game 1, finally caught fire from deep to hit back-to-back 3-pointers during the third-quarter spurt and one with 3:26 left to stave of a Hawks’ charge.
The Hawks went cold in the second half as ex-Knick Danilo Gallinari was an Italian brickmaster (2 of 8 from 3).
The Garden’s roof nearly blew off its hinges after Alec Burks fed a long alley-oop pass for an Obi Toppin dunk as the Knicks went up by 10 points, 88-78 with 8:34 left in the fourth quarter.
Young finished with 30 points and seven assists.
Incredibly, Randle, ragged in Game 1, didn’t have a field goal in the first half while Young dished and swished and led Atlanta to a 57-44 halftime lead.
The derogatory chants aimed at Young were still there, with the same profane one from Game 1. When that didn’t work, the fans started chanting in the second quarter, “Trae Young’s balding.’’
But in truth, it was Thibodeau pulling his hair out as the Knicks couldn’t stop Young or find any offense other than the attacking Rose, who dumped in 14 first-half points.
Meanwhile, Young, despite the Knicks attempts to get the ball out of his hands, poured in 20 first-half points with four assists. Young created space to hit 4 of 6 from 3, three of them a few feet behind the arc.
Randle was presented the Most Improved Player Award in a pregame ceremony with the Knicks front office, but then couldn’t get anything going to confirm his new status. Randle finished the half with two points, both on free throws, going 0-for-6. He didn’t notch his first points until 4:13 left in the half.
And then the Knicks’ magic happened.