USA: If the Knicks make it to the second round of the playoffs, team owner James Dolan is hellbent on filling the Garden to its full capacity. Of course, that’s a big if after the Knicks’ 105-94 loss to the Hawks in Game 3 on Friday put them down in the series, 2-1.
If the Knicks rally to Round 2, Knicks fans who haven’t been fully vaccinated won’t be allowed to attend.
Children under the age of 16, however, will be permitted to attend if they provide proof of a negative antigen COVID-19 test, negative PCR COVID-19 test or full vaccination. They will have to wear a mask while in their seats unless eating or drinking.
“Given the enthusiastic response to vaccination requirements, should they advance past round one, tickets will be sold exclusively to fully-vaccinated individuals,’’ read the Knicks’ statement regarding their second-round plans.
With the Knicks’ sizable and boisterous crowds becoming a national conversation, the team announced it will sell second-round tickets only to vaccinated fans. No socially distanced sections would be available and the Garden would be virtually at full capacity (19,040) if the Knicks get by the Hawks. Friday’s night’s announced attendance at State Farm Arena was 15,743.
The Knicks quietly raised their capacity to 16,254 for Game 2, adding more seats behind the basket and putting together a few more vaccinated sections. The capacity for Game 1 was 15,043.
The Knicks also announced Game 5 is already sold out at the 16,000-plus capacity. The first two games marked the largest indoor crowds to gather in New York since the start of the pandemic. As it is, the Garden has been as loud as it has been in years — if not louder — dating to the last playoff game in 2013.
The Knicks started the season’s first 14 games with no fans. The cap for the final 22 regular-season games was 1,980. Original plans by Gov. Andrew Cuomo were for the Knicks to cap it at 5,700 for the playoffs, but relaxed pandemic rules were fast-tracked.
Center Nerlens Noel looked a tad gimpy in Game 2 coming off his sprained ankle, so Taj Gibson made the start Wednesday.
Gibson scored four points with six rebounds in 26 minutes. He wasn’t nearly the factor he was in Game 2, when he started the second half. Noel played well off the bench Friday, scoring 12 points while hitting 10 free throws.
“At this stage of the season, most guys are nicked up,’’ head coach Tom Thibodeau said. “And we want Nerlens to be Nerlens. Just give us that activity, anchor that defense, protect the rim, roll hard to the rim, do all the things he’s done all year. And that’s his strength. It’s important to our team. I think, with time, he’s gotten a little bit stronger [since the Game 1 injury]. He got nicked up a little bit, but I think he’s feeling a lot better.’’
by Marc Berman