ATLANTA — If Julius Randle and RJ Barrett had played this sharply against the Hawks last spring, the Knicks would have won that first-round playoff series.
The Hawks fans were chanting “playoff chokers’’ in the first half Saturday night at State Farm Arena, but Randle and Barrett shut them up with a combined 50 points in a 117-108 victory that put the Knicks (22-21) over the .500 mark for the first time in more than a month.
After Randle laid in a big inside hoop with 2:51 remaining despite getting mauled by John Collins, he celebrated by giving a thumbs-down — this time to the Hawks fans, who presumably were booing the play.
Randle finished with 24 points and nine assists and kept his composure late despite twice getting blocked at the rim in the fourth quarter by Atlanta’s young big man, Onyeka Okongwu.
Barrett, coming off two straight 30-point games, pumped in 26 points and Evan Fournier added 18. For the second straight game, all five starters cruised into double figures.
Randle’s performance was another step in the direction of winning back his fans after his thumbs-down display toward them nine days ago at the Garden.
The Knicks are 8-3 in their last 11 games, back over .500 at 22-21 and situated in the play-in event if the season ended today. It’s the first time they’ve been over .500 since Dec. 2.
The Hawks made a spirited rally from a 17-point deficit early in the third quarter and were down just three points with four minutes left in the fourth.
With the Atlanta fans chanting “De-Fense,’’ Barrett cooly sank a right-wing 3-pointer that set the Knicks on a 10-0 run, with Randle putting the finishing touch on the win.
In the first half, Randle scored 15 points and six assists as the Knicks built a 14-point bulge at halftime.
Randle deferred in the first quarter with crisp passes, including a series to big men Mitchell Robinson and Taj Gibson. Then he became a scoring machine late in the second quarter, notching nine straight points.
On the possession before the scoring surge, Randle found Robinson underneath for a dunk. Then he got going himself.
Randle scored on a turnaround jumper from mid-range, drained a 3-pointer, got inside on a hard drive for another basket and finished off a fast-break with a slam-dunk.
On the next possession, Fournier drilled a 3-pointer with 2:20 left in the half and the Knicks were in the lead 60-47, on the way to a 65-51 halftime bulge.
The Hawks have struggled on defense all season and it’s the cause of their 17-25 record and fifth straight loss. They may qualify as the NBA’s most disappointing team after their miraculous run to the Eastern Conference finals last season.