Josh Hart’s endless motor earning full appreciation on Knicks’ playoff stage

Josh Hart Jalen Brunson Knicks
Jalen Brunson with Josh Hart(AP Photo/Adam Hunger)

Having secured a Game 2 win in the friendly, boisterous confines of Madison Square Garden, New York Knicks forward Josh Hart made it a point to make his way over to one of the most notorious figures in his team’s history, Reggie Miller, to clarify something.

In the final moments of a 130-121 triumph to take a 2-0 Eastern Conference semifinal lead. the raucous crowd of roughly 20,000 began chanting “F—k you Reggie!” toward their long-time rival — the former Indiana Pacer once Public Enemy No. 1 in the Big Apple after tormenting the Knicks for a large portion of the 1990s — while he sat courtside serving as a commentator for TNT’s television coverage. 

“I don’t know if you heard, but I think they said, ‘F–k you,” Hart said as he leaned over to the Hall of Famer. “F–k you, Reggie.” 

After the game, Hart implored that he was simply partaking in a public service, of sorts: “I just wanted to make sure he heard what the fans were chanting. I just wanted to make sure.” 

As if he could not endear himself to a rabid New York fan base any more.

Spell the Knicks’ heart H-A-R-T. While Jalen Brunson deservedly earns his flowers for one of the best seasons in team history and the main reason why New York is where it is currently, Hart has been the integral cog of the Knicks machine. 

Playing at the 3, the second member of the Knicks’ Villanova trio has put up gaudy numbers during these playoffs, averaging 18 points and 12.8 rebounds per game while shooting 47.1% from the field and 43.9% from three-point range. 

As his minutes increase, his efficiency somehow has, too. He’s averaging 19.7 points on 61.1% shooting from the field over his last three games, scoring 16 points with 14 rebounds in the closeout Game 6 over the Philadelphia 76ers before posting 24 points and 13 rebounds in a 121-117 Game 1 win against the Pacers. On Wednesday night in Game 2, he put up 19 points and 15 rebounds.

“When you look at what Josh has given us, you have great respect for that,” Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau said. “It’s saying a lot. The actions say a lot more than the words. It says you really care about your team and your teammates. We have a team of guys full of that.”

Josh Hart Knicks
New York Knicks’ Josh Hart (3) fights for control of the ball with Indiana Pacers’ Aaron Nesmith during the first half of Game 2 in an NBA basketball second-round playoff series Wednesday, May 8, 2024, in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

With it comes an engine that does not seem to have a limit. Out of the Knicks’ first nine playoff games, he has played every minute in four of them, including all 48 in minutes in Games 1 and 2 of the East semis against Indiana. He’s the first player in the NBA to play four full playoff games in a single postseason since Jimmy Butler in 2013 with the Chicago Bulls. His head coach also just so happened to be Tom Thibodeau. 

“Rest and recovery. My Lord works in mysterious ways,” Hart replied when asked about his workload (h/t Michael Scotto, HoopsHype). “[Game 2], I felt like I didn’t have it at all. The whole game I was reciting Isaiah 41:29. The weak he renews strength. That was the biggest thing. He allows you to walk and not faint.”

There could be even larger tests for him right around the corner. OG Anunoby left Game 2 with a sore hamstring and his status is currently up in the air, meaning even more responsibility could fall on the 29-year-old’s shoulders.

“I’m playing 48 [minutes] anyway,” Hart said. “Ain’t s—t change… Thibs always asks if I need [a break] and I always tell him no. As a competitor, you want to play. You want to play every second.”

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