The Knickerbocker faithful had to wait until well into Saturday’s matchup against the Cleveland Cavaliers to celebrate, but New York ended up beating their hosts 101-97 on the road and took a solid 1-0 first-round series lead.
“Our only game plan today was just win,” Jalen Brunson said after the game. “Whatever it took. Whatever was needed.”
And that’s what the Knicks did, outrebounding the on-paper frontcourt-loaded Cavaliers 51-38 on the day that marked Julius Randle’s return to the court after missing the final five games of the regular season and undergoing a 17-day rehab period.
“For [Randle], his first game back, I’m not sure what he did on the offensive side, but he was rebounding the ball, contesting shots,” commented Hart on his post-game presser. “Him and obviously [Brunson] just controlling the tempo, getting us into our sets, doing those kinds of things that sometimes don’t show up in the box score. Having them both back, and us being at full strength, it feels good,” he finished.
A certain All-Star guard thought yesterday “didn’t go the way we wanted to,” also saying that the Cavs “will be ready for Game 2” and that “this isn’t the end of the world.” We’ll see how that goes, Donovan. “We will respond,” he answered.
Mitchell, who led his team with 38 points, hoisted 30 shots from the floor while also attempting six freebies through a team-high 44 minutes of play. Nobody in the Knicks’ squad topped 33 minutes (Randle and Hart).
The Knicks' second unit beat the Cavs’ 37-14. In fact, Josh Hart alone scored more points than Cleveland’s four reserves on the day, outscoring them 17-14 by the final buzzer.
“He plays to win,” coach Tom Thibodeau said about Hart’s fantastic performance. “There’s no other agenda other than winning.”
Brunson gave his former Villanova teammate his flowers: “It’s unreal. It’s just what he does. I said it after the game—it doesn’t matter if it’s pick-up, preseason, playoffs... he plays that way every single time. That’s just how he is, that’s how he’s wired. He’s big time.”
Hart, in case you had forgotten, was making his postseason debut after spending six years in the Association plying his trade at different places from Los Angeles to New Orleans by way of Portland.
“Oh man, it was fun. It was a great atmosphere,” Hart said after Saturday’s matchup. “Gotta give their fans credit, they showed out, they were loud, they supported their team. And obviously, you know to come out Game 1 with a win, obviously, that’s always great.”
Is Jalen Brunson embarrassed that Josh Hart is wearing his face?? @nyknicks | @joshhart | @jalenbrunson1 pic.twitter.com/DdaNBKeYsM— x - KNICKS ON MSG (@KnicksMSGN) April 16, 2023
“It felt great,” Hart said.
“Obviously, when you’re in adverse situations, you can either crumble or band together and come out on top. I feel like the latter is what we did. We didn’t get frustrated, didn’t get rattled,” Hart continued. “We know they’re a good team, and Donovan’s a heck of an offensive player. So we weren’t surprised. We kept the demeanor of, ‘Let’s go about our business. Let’s handle our business, let’s control what we can control.’ That’s our attitude. And we were able to pull it out.”
Hart attended the post-game presser with a tee smacked with teammate Jalen Brunson’s face in the chest, an homage to the cover he graced for SLAM magazine.
More from Josh Hart on his postgame wardrobe choice https://t.co/IKbAcRMzyg pic.twitter.com/cOukOEyAyv— NBA (@NBA) April 16, 2023
“He was on the cover of SLAM a couple of weeks ago. So I bought a shirt, told him I was going to wear it at some point,” Hart said. “He gets in [early] foul trouble the day I wear it, so I’m gonna burn it and never gonna wear it again.”
Brunson committed two fouls early in the first quarter and got sent to the pine by Thibs. He had a third foul with more than nine minutes left in the second that forced the coach to sit his point guard once more.
“There’s no time to dwell on that, I was just trying to keep everything positive,” Brunson said about his fouling woes. “I knew my time would eventually come around.”
His time came, and although Donovan Mitchell covered him late in the game and ultimately Brunson missed what could have ended up in Cleveland’s win, Hart was there to keep the Cavs at bay with 1:48 remaining in the game.
“I think Donovan was guarding [Jalen] and obviously Jalen was feeling good so we were trying to get him the ball and let him work,” said Hart. “Donovan did a good job of denying him, and it was like, ‘All right, I gotta be aggressive.’ Pulled up and the ball went in.”
Josh Hart mixes it up for the Knicks lead with less than 2 minutes left in the 4th quarter pic.twitter.com/4X3BhhsrLS— ClutchPoints (@ClutchPointsApp) April 16, 2023
Hart wrapped it all up by adding 10 boards (half of them offensive), two assists, and one steal to his stat line. He was a deciding factor for the Knicks to pull off the win and earn homecourt advantage over the Cavs just one game into their first-round series.
On a day in which Immanuel Quickley struggled mightily (three points from the charity stripe, 0-for-5 from the field), Hart was decisive.
Obi Toppin, in 14 minutes off the pine, scored nine points grabbing four rebounds and dishing out one dime against just one turnover. He knows things have just started.
“It’s gonna be a dogfight, this whole series,” Toppin told SNY. “Every game from now on until the Finals, every team, it’s gonna be a dogfight. Everybody wants to win, everybody is gonna do extra things to help their team,” said the forward.
“We’re gonna bring that dog out every game,” Toppin finished.
And we’re ready to watch it.
The Knicks will be inside the Cavs' arena for their second game on the road next Tuesday, leading 1-0 and trying to return to MSG boasting an early 2-0 and looking forward to a potential series-wrapping pair of home matches if they win out in Manhattan.
Not so fast, though. Next tip-off at 7:30 EST on Tuesday. Don’t miss it.