Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s latest ease on capacity restrictions will allow more fans to take part in the playoff runs for the New York Knicks, Brooklyn Nets and New York Islanders.
Earlier this month, Cuomo announced certain restrictions would be lifted after New York’s COVID-19 numbers have slowly improved since reaching its most recent peak in January. Restaurants, offices, retail stores, hair salons, gyms, amusements and other family entertainment options will see capacity limits eased up starting on May 19.
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"This is a major reopening of economic and social activity," Cuomo said. “We are at a point now where we are going to take a major step forward on reopening.”
How This Affects Pro Sports Teams
Indoor arenas such as Madison Square Garden have previously been limited to 10% of their capacity. But with the new restrictions, the Knicks and Islanders will be permitted to fill the arena up to 30% as the teams prepare for the postseason.
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The Islanders are set to host the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 3 on Thursday, meaning it will mark the first game for the team with the increased capacity. Pittsburgh will have a bit more of a home-ice advantage after the first matchup. For Game 1, the Penguins will have a 25% capacity limit for PPG Paints Arena. After that, home games will be at 50% capacity, which is more than 9,000 fans. Pennsylvania is raising its occupancy limits on May 17.
The Knicks are currently the No. 6 seed and have clinched a playoff berth, while the Nets are slotted in at No. 2. The first game of the NBA playoffs isn’t set to begin until May 22, meaning the increased capacity limits will be in effect for both teams when they start their postseason.
The Knicks officially ended their playoff drought on Wednesday when the Boston Celtics fell to the Cleveland Cavaliers. New York’s postseason berth comes after seven straight seasons of finishing in the lottery. The turnaround can be credited to Coach Tom Thibodeau and forward Julius Randle.
The defensive-minded Thibodeau has transformed the Knicks into one of the league’s best defenses. New York leads the league in points allowed per game at 104.9 — a marked improvement from the 17th-ranked defense a year ago that surrendered 112.3 points per contest.
This marks the second time Thibodeau has ended a long playoff drought. He led the Minnesota Timberwolves to the postseason in 2017-18, ending the team’s 14-year run without making the playoffs.
In his second year with the Knicks, Randle has put together the best season of his career, averaging 24 points and 10.3 rebounds per game. He’s the favorite to win the league’s Most Improved Player Award and earned his first All-Star selection this year to give the Knicks one of the premier talents in the league.
Given the turnaround and its hard-nosed style of play the city could rally around, it’s fair to wonder how electric a full Madison Square Garden would be with the Knicks making a return to the postseason. It seems we’re still a bit off from that, but the recently increased capacity limits are at least an improvement to a sense of normalcy.