Home Sports How the Knicks’ special chemistry helped them turn back the 76ers

How the Knicks’ special chemistry helped them turn back the 76ers

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PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA - MAY 2: Kelly Oubre Jr. #9 of the Philadelphia 76ers and Josh Hart #3 of the New York Knicks react after Hart's three-point basket during the fourth quarter of game six of the NBA Playoffs Eastern Conference First Round at Wells Fargo Center on May 2, 2024 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)

PHILADELPHIA – Josh Hart’s magnetic palms secured the basketball for the final time against the 76ers on Thursday night. A late Buddy Hield attempt resonated off the backboard like a missile seeking Hart’s possession, his 14th and final rebound as the buzzer sounded in New York’s Game 6 victory over Joel Embiid and company. -4 giant on the glass who has averaged 12.3 rebounds per game in these playoffs, then he said goodbye to the crowd and his triple with 24.4 seconds left proved to be the decisive dagger for New York’s survival by 118-115 and the 4-2 victory in the series. Hart would keep that ball close, cradled against his hip, strutting around the court during postgame banter with Philadelphia players and staff.

Jalen Brunson found Hart amid the sea of ​​cameras and half-hugs, putting his arm around his former college teammate, his former college roommate, who helped New York defeat sixth-seeded Indiana in the second round of the Eastern Conference playoffs, which begins Monday night. at Madison Square Garden. Brunson was magical once again on this South Philadelphia court, where he, Hart and fellow Villanova product Donte DiVincenzo once played home games in the Big East. And so, after Brunson scored another 41 points and 12 assists for the Sixers (to become just the seventh player in NBA history to record 40-plus points in three consecutive postseason games), he cornered Hart’s wiry shoulders. and Brunson pointed to the two navy blue ones. banners hanging from the rafters indicating his pair of NCAA championships for the 2016 and 2018 Wildcats.

The Knicks’ Josh Hart moves on after his 3-pointer late in the fourth quarter of Game 6 on Thursday night in Philadelphia. (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)

Brunson would continue on the sidelines from there, with a TNT headset waiting to broadcast his interview to Studio J in Atlanta. Through questions from Charles Barkley and Shaquille O’Neal, Brunson’s eyes stayed on those blue banners, including the third one honoring Villanova’s 1985 title. All while Knicks president Leon Rose kept his emotional gaze fixed on the sensational point guard who is elevating this New York franchise Rose was tasked with returning to relevance.

With her black low-top sneakers placed in front of the visitor’s bench, Rose fought back tears as she explored the wood. Everyone has frequented this stadium. Rose once walked the back halls of this arena as Allen Iverson’s agent. Rose played ball in high school just over the Ben Franklin Bridge. The gym where he scored more than 1,000 points in his career is just down the street from the JCC where, decades later, Brunson practiced shooting with friends after school. Now shaking her head, fighting back tears, Rose’s face lit up as Brunson took over the responsibilities from her, and then Rose enveloped the 27-year-old superstar in a big hug. They turned before a roaring cohort of Knicks fans who infiltrated enemy territory and marched toward the locker room, toward New York’s second consecutive postseason run with at least one series to its name — the franchise’s first streak of such success since 2000.

“The chemistry and communication we have in that locker room, on and off the court, is special,” Brunson said.

Perhaps that connectivity was the special ingredient that finally separated New York from its worthy adversary. After six games and one overtime, the Knicks led the Sixers with a one-point scoring differential in the entire tenacious series. Before this final clash took place, Philadelphia head coach Nick Nurse was asked what themes he believes have decided each precious game of this matchup, and the former champion had nothing concrete to offer. “I’ve decided that nothing matters,” the nurse said. “They kill us on the glass, go down to the bell. We kill them on the glass, go down to the doorbell. Joel scores 50 and it all comes down to the buzzer. Brunson scores 47 and it all comes down to the buzzer.”

Indeed, this match was tied in the last minute. Philadelphia sent Nic Batum and Kelly Oubre trapped toward Brunson’s handle just as half of that minute had expired. “They attacked,” Hart said. He had a perfect view from the top of the key, but Hart’s first instinct was to skip any pass from Brunson to DiVincenzo, who had broken out into his best game of the series, scoring 23 points on 5-of-9 shooting from deep.

Perhaps it was a subconscious pause to allow someone else, some other Wildcat, to turn fortunes in New York’s favor. Hart’s two missed free throws at the end of regulation in Game 5 could have given the Knicks a big enough lead to avoid Philadelphia and end this early. “That loss fell on my shoulders,” Hart said. “I had a day and a half to think about it. “It’s really all I thought about.”

However, the Sixers did not change their direction. Just like in Game 1, Philadelphia left Hart stranded on an island, nothing but an ocean between him and the rim, and Hart delivered once again. After his brief hesitation, he was left with no choice. “A second of, ‘OK, I saw how they were doing it, no turning,’” Hart said, “and I was able to get my feet in position and just shoot an open, uncontested shot.”

Hart played more than 46 minutes on Thursday. He was less than 20 minutes in the entire series. “Josh is never close to coming out,” Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said. Did the head coach ever really consider giving him a long break, even after Hart sprained his ankle in the first half? “It was a passing thought. I let it go,” Thibodeau said.

New York has passed its first test of this postseason. They have survived one of the toughest first-round battles in recent memory. They couldn’t even enjoy this victory until midnight, as Thibodeau usually allows his players. By the time they broke up the locker room meeting, Thursday had already turned into Friday and the Knicks were on top of the Pacers.

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