Deep down, New York Knicks fans knew that this would be the outcome.
They knew that Julius Randle was not good enough to be the No. 1 player on a championship team. They knew that R.J. Barrett would not suddenly blossom into a superstar come playoff time.
But briefly, for a fanbase ravaged by a brutal pandemic and by years of boring basketball, none of that mattered. The 2021 Knicks were, and will be remembered as, superhuman.&nbsp;A blowout loss to the Atlanta Hawks does not change that fact.
Everyone knows by now that Vegas oddsmakers projected the Knicks to win 21 games this year, a total they nearly matched in April and May alone. But what those outside New York might not realize is that most fans did not even bat an eye when they heard that prediction. There was no reason to expect anything besides mediocrity.&nbsp;
Instead, a fairytale developed at Madison Square Garden. While Kevin Durant — who Knicks fans were once certain would be wearing blue and orange by now — lit up the scoreboard in Brooklyn, the Knicks hung with the league’s best using a ragtag group of second-tier players united only by the fact that they did not reject New York. They were the exact opposite of a superteam in an era where no other strategy has relevance.&nbsp;
“There is no other place like this,” Tom Thibodeau said after yesterday’s season-ending loss. “It was great to experience, even when we had 2,000 fans it felt like 19,000. From the players to the coaches, we all felt it. … And hopefully we gave them something to be proud of.”&nbsp;
That is why things will only get better for New York in the coming years. The most important thing about this season is that it reminded fans and players what the Knicks are supposed to represent. No other New York team has such a strong impact on the mood of the city. When the Knicks lose, New York City loses. And when they win — well, did you hear how loud Madison Square Garden was?
So as Randle was showered with cheers, not booing, while dribbling out the last seconds of blowout Game 5 loss, it was obvious that a rebirth had taken place. The Knicks are no longer a once-great franchise whose only virtue is playing in a famous&nbsp;arena. Instead, speculation about a potential Damian Lillard trade is already starting. (Without any factual basis, but that is not the point). Whatever happens this offseason, Knicks fans are done reminiscing on past glory.