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Josh Hart after win over Nets: “This is the Mecca; the air is different out there”

Two games, two wins, Undefeated King of NYC.

Brooklyn Nets v New York Knicks Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

It’s been more than three years and nine games in the making, but the Manhattan blockbuster finally got delivered on Monday as the New York Knicks (32-27) defeated the visiting Brooklyn Nets 124-106 at MSG for the first time since the start of the KD-Kyrie era.

Perhaps Brooklyn should get accustomed to being the No. 2 team in the New York area from now on, and if that’s the case then this served the likes of Mikal Bridges, Dorian Finney-Smith, and Cam Johnson well as an initiation.

That might not be the case yet, at least judging by the standings, but things could change very quickly with New York getting the best of BK and now sitting just two games behind the not-for-long-fifth-place Nets (33-24).

“We’ve had some really good games against [earlier Nets teams],” Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said. “Most of the games have come down to the last shot. They’re a terrific team. They had very talented players and they’ll have very talented players now. We have to be ready to play strong on both sides of the ball.”

The Knicks made things interesting allowing Brooklyn to dream about a potential win and getting into the halftime break down three points. How things would change through the remainder of the games, though: New York outscored the Nets 66-44 in the final 24 minutes of play.

“You’ve got to give them credit. They’ve been really good the past couple of years and they were great tonight,” Jalen Brunson said after the game. “I think we just had the upper hand in the second half and we kind of just turned it up a little bit and came away with a win.”

With Durant rehabbing in the desert and Kyrie avoiding taxes in Texas, it was Brunson who led all players involved in Monday’s NYC Deathmatch dumping 40 points on Brooklyn’s foreheads.

The ‘Nova Champs combined for 67 points on the night with the freshest Knickerbocker, Josh Hart, contributing 27 pops to go with four boards, a couple of dimes, and a theft. Brunson added five assists, a couple of rebounds, and a steal.

“[Brunson has] just made monumental strides every year. And it’s just exciting to see where his career is going,” said Hart. “He was amazing (at Villanova) and I knew he would have a long career in the NBA, but I didn’t think it was going to be how he’s playing now,” added Hart before stating that Brunson is “someone who should be an All-Star [as] he’s playing at an All-Star level.”

The real All-Star of the team, Julius Randle, had a meh game still ending in a double-double of 18 points and 10 rebounds, none of them offensive. Five members of the Knicks grabbed at least four boards each, though, with Jericho Sims the only one reaching five total and two on the offensive end.

Immanuel Quickley and Hart led the second unit with 28 minutes each. IQ scored 14 points, the most among those coming off the bench while also matching Brunson’s assists tally with five.

The Nets got brutalized through the final 17 minutes of the game as they found themselves two points up with around five minutes left in the third stanza only to proceed to get outscored 41–20 from that point on.

“You got to sprint through the finish line,” Brunson said.

One who didn’t help a lot: franchise player RJ Barrett, who went 0-of-5 in the first half and finished the game 2-of-8 with four points on the day. Zero freebies, zero three-pointers, 24 minutes of cardio for the Maple Mamba.

Evan Fournier made a brief two-minute cameo similar to that of Miles McBride playing four minutes off the pine.

Speaking about Brunson and Hart having clicked from the get-go, Thibodeau thinks it’s all a “Villanova thing, pretty easy to see.“ The coach also thinks that Hart “has really good chemistry with Julius as well” linking back to their time together as part of the Los Angeles Lakers organization a few years ago.

“The thing with Jalen and [Hart] is [they went] through big moments and [had] the pressure of winning a National Championship together. Their bond is special. The thing I love about what Josh does for the team is it’s for the team, everything,” Thibodeau said.

The Knicks coach kept on going, saying that “a lot of guys score points in this league but they really don’t impact winning the way [Hart] impacts winning.” According to Thibodeau, “sometimes they’re just tough plays, hustle plays... sprint back, steal the ball back, plays like that give your team a lot of confidence. It’s a lot of dirty work, but it’s also the glue of your team, it helps you stick together.”

“Those types of guys I think are the type that helps you build a winning culture. We’re thrilled obviously to have him,” added Thibs before finishing by saying that “[Hart’s] competitive spirit is special.”

The main man had some words to share after the win over Brooklyn too.

“It’s been amazing,” Hart started. “This is MSG, this is the Mecca, the air is different out there.”

“The New York fans are amazing, they’re behind us 100 percent, they’re loud, and they bring it every game. It’s been amazing. We got two wins and now we just got to finish off this next one strong.”

New York visits Atlanta (29-29) for their last game before the All-Star break. The Knicks sit 7th in the East just a half-game behind Miami (32-26) and 2.5 games above the Hawks.

Crucial matchup ahead. Tip-off at 7:30 pm EST on Wednesday, Feb. 15. Don’t miss it.