Knicks can’t take this show on the road

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A day later, the residual joy was still evident, because that’s what high-octane playoff victories do. Folks wore their Knicks shirts to the gym, wore their Knicks caps to the diner for breakfast. Talk radio crackled with so much Knicks chatter you wanted to check the calendar and make sure we hadn’t somehow taken Doc Brown’s time machine back to 1995 or so.

And now the real work begins.

The Knicks played a terrific second half Wednesday night. They made an inspired comeback and took a game off the Atlanta Hawks when it looked like they might take an 0-2 hole with them to Georgia. They somehow won despite shooting only 38 percent from the field, won even though Julius Randle played a second straight game in which he didn’t come close to honoring his terrific regular season.

“The ending,” Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said, “is what matters.”

But there ought to be a sobering sense of duty that accompanies the Knicks to State Farm Arena on Friday night for Game 3 of this best-of-seven first-round series with the Hawks. There can be no self-delusion. The Knicks can’t afford to do as they did in both of the first two games — sinking into an early 12-point deficit Sunday, tumbling into a 15-point hole Wednesday.

As the locals in Atlanta might say: That dog won’t hunt Friday night in Game 3, in an arena that has always tended to be more Knicks-friendly than most road venues but certainly won’t replicate the emotional lift that Madison Square Garden provided when they nearly stole Game 1 and actually did pilfer Game 2.

“To get the win, everything we went through in the game, fighting, scratching and clawing to get there, playing against a great young team, it shows fight,” Knicks guard Derrick Rose said, and there is little question that every syllable is accurate.

But the Knicks can’t take their time working out the kinks across the next two games. There is but one mission now: Get this series back to the Garden, at the least, tied at 2-2. That will mean better performances across the board, starting with Randle, who feasted on the Hawks in three regular-season games and did show a little of the old spark in the second half Wednesday night.

We will see if Thibodeau’s decision to put Elfrid Payton in mothballs was a one-day, one-half experiment or the start of something new. Thibodeau finally conceded to both scoreboard and situation when he inserted Rose and Taj Gibson into the second-half first five in place of the ineffective Payton and the sore Nerlens Noel.

“We just felt we were flat and we needed a jolt of energy,” Thibodeau explained. “So we wanted to change it up.”

That shuffle alone didn’t guarantee anything, but it did seem to get the team’s attention. It proves that Thibodeau, with a reputation for stubbornness, will indeed strike when the urgency of a moment demands it. Of course, when asked about the team’s ability, twice, to fight back into these games he laughed and said, “Well, I wish we didn’t have to.”

It is a reasonable request.

“There’s going to be frustrations, but we are who we are as a team,” Randle said. “We’re never going to doubt whether we can win a game or not.”

They shouldn’t doubt that. There is too much track record this year, too many examples of the Knicks figuring stuff out on the fly. But if we are going to chalk up the troubling stretches of the Knicks’ first two games, at least in part, to the general lack of playoff experience then they are in for a real treat now, with their first playoff road games on the docket.

And even if there are a few Knicks fans who are able to make their way into the building, you have to figure it’ll be a generally unfriendly landscape that’ll await the Knicks. And you have to figure Hawks fans might be a little salty based on how the Garden treated their local five — notably Trae Young.

Now the real work begins.

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