The New York Knicks (25-17) held Villanova Night inside Madison Square Garden on the day they hosted the lowly Washington Wizards (7-33) in Manhattan.
Truth be told, they couldn’t have picked a better foe if all they wanted to do on a random Thursday in the middle of January was finding an excuse to celebrate, final result 113-109 for the folks clad in blue-and-orange adorned threads.
The Knicks struggled—because Knicks—but a win is a win and that’s what they did. Jalen Brunson dumped 41 points in front of his sister and his mom as they were in attendance showing the kid some love. Julius Randle added 21 points and both OG and DiVo put up 19 apiece.
Here is what we heard from the protagonist and other folks in the past few hours.
On the Wizards effort to stay close to New York for the full game...
“They were just never going to quit. We just found a way to win. I just found a way to get to the basket.”
On his mindset during the final minutes of a tight matchup (Brunson scored 20 points in the 4th quarter alone)...
“Whatever it takes to win. Teammates and coaches have confidence in me, and I have confidence in them. We just want to win. Whatever it is, whatever needs to be done. It’s the end of the game; you’re trying to win. It’s a little different, but the approach stays the same. I gotta have the same attacking mindset, but I also gotta be smart. You gotta know time, score and situation. It’s a little different but not that much.”
On his 20 points in the fourth quarter coming inside or from the charity stripe...
“It must be a Villanova thing.”
On beating the lowly Wizards by a narrow four-point margin...
“We didn’t play great, obviously, but we found a way to win, which is the most important thing. Our turnovers were costly, but just find a way to win the game. That’s the bottom line.”
“Jalen, I think the game tells him what to do. But also Isaiah’s rebounding, Julius [had] some big plays, clutch shots. Donte... and OG was OG—he’s something.”
On Josh Hart’s shooting struggles during the first half of the season...
“I think you guys know how I feel about the most-important rating there is—your net rating. And so, that tells you the impact that you’re having on the team when you’re on the floor. And [Hart] is at the top of the list, even though he’s not—I don’t know if you can measure it by points or field-goal percentage.”
“What’s happening when he’s on the floor? [The net rating] is still very strong. That’s where I want him to focus. Just keep moving forward. You can play well without shooting well. I’m not worried about his shooting. I know that’s gonna come around.”
“Help us in all the ways that you help us: rebounding the ball, pushing the ball on the break, hustling, getting deflections, guarding multiple positions. Those are some types of things that are hard to measure but it brings great value to your team. And that’s really why he’s here.”
On improving his all-around game and avoiding up-and-down streaks as the season progresses...
“At the end of the day, I just gotta play better, regardless of the stuff that I can’t control. At the end of the day, I gotta play better. It’s something that I’ve struggled with this year and haven’t been able to put good games together. I gotta find a way to bring that energy every night, on a daily basis.”
On the knee issue ruling him out of Thursday’s game against Washington...
“[The knee] got a little more sore and a little more achy (in the past week).”
“I just woke up with a little bit of soreness. Obviously, just rest it today. [Friday] I think we’re off from practice so I’m gonna get treatment. Then, try to get ready for Saturday’s game [at MSG against the Raptors].”
On his shortened offseason last summer as he played postseason and Team USA basketball for the first time in his career...
“This is my seventh year and every year before I was on vacation April 13. FIBA [World Cup] was six weeks of basketball. That’s two and a half months of playing basketball that my body normally has to recover and strengthen. This year is going to be a consistent battle of trying to have maintenance and just get me through.”
On handling the burden of going through an 82-game regular season...
“I’m not surprised with how it feels. Normally, once you get later in the season, Game 50-ish, 55–60 you start kind of feeling it. Then you have a little All-Star break so you can kind of rest for some days and then get back into it. So I’m not surprised with the shorter summer that it’s kind of starting to bite me in the butt a little earlier than it normally does. But it’s not something that is too serious.”
“I think I know how to manage [the ever-increasing load] pretty well.”
“Sometimes, the frustrating part is trying to balance the rest and getting up extra shots and work. You don’t want to feel like you’re getting out of rhythm, but you don’t want to put your body through too much. There’s a constant battle with that. But I think I have a pretty good feel of how to manage it during the season.”