Success is a word that has been hard to come by for the New York Knicks over the last decade, as prior to this season, they had made just one playoff appearance since 2013. While he is not necessarily their best player, Josh Hart is the Knicks’ most impactful player and is one of the main reasons they now find themselves as one of the last four teams standing in the Eastern Conference.
Following Tuesday night’s victory over the Miami Heat, the Knicks are now tied at 1-1 in their Eastern Conference Semifinals series. Playing in a total of 33 minutes in the starting rotation, Hart recorded 14 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists, just one assist shy of his first career triple-double.
In fact, he even made history in the Knicks’ Game 2 victory, as Hart became the first Knicks player to record at least 10 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists in a playoff game since Walt Frazier in 1972.
While Julius Randle, Jalen Brunson and RJ Barrett headline the Knicks’ roster, Hart has been extremely effective for this team since the trade deadline.
Coming over to New York from the Portland Trail Blazers in a four-team trade, Hart has been the picture-perfect player head coach Tom Thibodeau likes to have. Known for being a defensive-minded coach, Thibodeau looks to not only get the most out of his guys on that end of the floor, but he also expects his players to outhustle the opponent and do the little things to win games. From diving on the ground for the loose ball to deflecting a pass defensively to making the extra pass on offense and getting a “hockey assist,” the little things in basketball make a world of difference.
The Knicks get all of this with Josh Hart.
While Hart’s impact does not always show up in the box score like it did on Tuesday night, his energy and presence has elevated this entire organization to new heights.
Since joining the Knicks ahead of the trade deadline, Hart has played in a total of 32 games, including the playoffs. New York is 22-10 when Hart plays, and he is truly one of the ultimate role players in the league. Hart does all of the little things mentioned above to help his team win, and their Game 2 win over Miami was yet another reminder that the Knicks made one of the best midseason acquisitions this year.
“It’s who he is,” Knicks guard Jalen Brunson told reporters after the team’s recent win over the Heat, via the NY Post. “It’s in his DNA just making the right play at the right time, whether it’s getting an offensive rebound, defensive rebound, making the right pass, getting to the lane or knocking down the big shot. … I have the utmost confidence in him.”
Brunson was Hart’s teammate for two seasons at Villanova, winning a championship together in 2016.
Now, the two are looking to do the same in New York.
Hart’s arrival to the Knicks has brought out the most in both him and his teammates, which is one of the reasons why he has helped save New York’s season. Not even focusing on what he did in Game 2 of this Eastern Conference Semifinals series against Miami, Hart’s presence greatly aided in New York’s victories during the final two months of the regular season. Every win the Knicks got during this span was extremely important for them, especially since they were still battling to avoid the Play-In Tournament.
Hart’s arrival opened the door for the Knicks to be more aggressive defensively, and he has also helped open the offense up. Instead of playing strictly through Randle and Brunson, New York has utilized Hart as a facilitator, and his ability to attack the glass on both ends of the floor has been very impactful.
From the start of the year to right before they made the move to trade for Hart, the Knicks were one of the best rebounding teams in the league, but they were hovering around a .500 record for the season. Once Hart arrived, they not only remained a top rebounding team, but they held the third-best record in the league through the end of the regular season.
This is not a coincidence. Even with the core of the team dealing with injuries, Hart remained available and ready to fill any role the Knicks needed of him.
Flash-forward in time to right now and it is clear to see the impact he had in Game 2 against the Heat. Recording a near triple-double is extremely impressive for a player who is not necessarily a primary option for his team. Without his key rebounds down the stretch, the Knicks may have lost this game. He also hit multiple clutch triples in the fourth quarter.
Potentially going down 0-2 with two upcoming games in Miami could have been a death sentence for New York, but Hart continues to give his team life. Should they they advance to the Eastern Conference Finals, Game 2 will be looked back at as the pivotal turning point in this series because of Josh Hart.
“Game 1 didn’t end how we wanted it to,” Hart stated after Tuesday’s win, via the NY Post. “I’m not happy that we got the split but we’ll take this win. We responded today, we competed at a high level and got the win.”
The fans love him, his teammates love him and, most importantly, his coaches believe in him, which is why Hart has been able to thrive in his role with the Knicks. He impacts winning in a big way and makes good things happen for the Knicks as a crucial glue guy who holds things together. Whether it is a clutch three-pointer from the corner or a rebound late in the game, Hart is always involved in said plays.
The postseason success the Knicks have found thus far really isn’t surprising when you look at how they have won. They have been able to win games through their defense and rebounding, two areas in which Hart excels.
Brunson, Randle and Barrett have been the main contributors offensively for the Knicks in terms of scoring, but nobody brings a bigger influence than Hart. As a 6-foot-5 wing, Hart ranks second on the team in rebounding this postseason and has helped lift the Knicks to having the best five-man lineup offensive rating this postseason, according to StatMuse.
What the future holds for the Knicks in their series against the Heat is yet to be seen, but they have the ultimate X-factor in this series. If Hart can continue to attack the glass and find success as the 3-and-D player he is, New York has a really good chance of making their first Eastern Conference Finals appearance since 1999.
Should this happen, Josh Hart will instantly become a hero for New York Knicks fans, that is if he isn’t already.
The post The Hart and soul of the Knicks: How Josh Hart saved New York’s season appeared first on ClutchPoints.