Knicks Will Tangle With the 76ers in the First Round of the Playoffs as They Dream of a Deep Run

A triumphant regular season sets the stage for hopes of playoff glory.

Photo by Elsa/Getty Images
Donte DiVincenzo of the New York Knicks falls into the first row of fans as he chased a loose ball during the first half at Madison Square Garden on April 14, 2024 at New York City. Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

When the New York Knicks won their two world championships more than 50 years ago, they were known as the ultimate team. Sure, they had a host of future Hall of Famers on those squads in 1969-70 and 1972-1973 but their success was due more to their collective parts than singular performances.

At their best,The 2024 Knicks are a reminder of those squads, utilizing virtually the entire roster to accomplish what seemed improbable even a month ago — earning the second seed in the upcoming playoffs.

The Knicks put the finishing touches on a 50-32 regular season by beating the Chicago Bulls 120-119 in overtime Sunday at Madison Square Garden to claim that second seed and home-court advantage through the Eastern Conference finals.

With guard Jalen Brunson leading the way, they notched the franchise’s first 50-win campaign since 2012-2013 by displaying the kind of grit and resilience that comes from playing as a collective unit, something they’ll depend on as they enter the postseason. 

Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said in his post-game remarks that “You have to be a team. It’s not the best individuals. It’s the best team. There was no quit in this team. Some nights we fell short. Hopefully, we learned from it and we’re better. The spirit of this team is very strong.”

It was a remarkable finish to a remarkable season. The Knicks won five straight games after losing four of their previous five and looking as if they might fall into the play-in tournament. Instead, they carry momentum and confidence into the playoffs where they will play the winner of Wednesday’s play-in game, the Philadelphia 76ers.

“From the start of the season we talked about wanting to be playing our best at the end,” Mr. Thibodeau said. “So that’s something we strived toward every day. The playoffs start and you’re at a zero base again. You have to earn everything.  Hopefully, we’ve built the right habits that will put us in position to win.”

The Knicks’ journey to this point has been impressive. They lost three-time All-Star Julius Randle after 46 games to a season-ending shoulder injury. Center Mitchell Robinson missed significant time with an ankle injury and forward OG Anunoby suffered an elbow injury that limited him to 23 games with the Knicks after being acquired in a trade with Toronto.

Mr. Brunson, though, carried the Knicks with a career year that, according to The Putback podcast with Ian Begley, saw him join Larry Bird and Steph Curry as the only three players in NBA history to average at least 28 points, 6 assists, and shoot better than 40 percent from three-point range in at least 77 games.

Mr. Brunson averaged 28.7 points during the season, and 39.4 in the Knicks’ closing five-game winning streak. A candidate for the league’s Most Valuable Player award and Most Improved Player honors, Mr. Brunson is one of several Knicks who increased their productivity to overcome Mr. Randle’s absence.

Guard Donte DiVincenzo had a career year, averaging 15.5 points per game, and set a Knicks single-season record with 283 made three pointers. His scoring average in the 35 games after Mr. Randle departed improved to 21 points per game. Mr. Anunoby, when healthy, has been a huge contributor averaging 14.1 points per game as a Knick and providing a consistent defensive presence. His value is illustrated by the 20-3 record the Knicks achieved when he was in the lineup.

Mr. Thibodeau said that Mr. Anunoby “has shown a lot of mental toughness. That’s what you love about him is his staying power. We need him at his best.”

Other players like Josh Hart, Isaiah Henderson, Miles McBride, Bojan Bogdanovic, and Precious Achiuwa all had made crucial contributions.

“We had a number of guys step up and play great,” Mr. Thibodeau said. “I think that’s important for the team. To see what Jalen did; to see what Josh Hart did; to see Isaiah and Donte did, it was good.”

Mr. Thibodeau even praised those who didn’t spend a lot of time on the court. “Even the guys that aren’t in the rotation are adding a lot to our team as well with the way they practice and prepare and support each other,” the coach said. “We always talk about how we have to be the best team. It’s not the best individual. It’s the best team.”

There’s that word again: “Team.” The Knicks have been every bit of that this year, despite losing Mr. Randle and his 24 points and nine rebounds per game. “It means a lot,” Mr. Anunoby said of earning the second seed. “There was a lot of adversity during the season. But we were a resilient team and it showed. We won a lot of games.”

The Knicks are scheduled to play Game one of a best-of-seven series on Saturday at Madison Square Garden, giving the team a few days of rest before the playoff grind begins. The top-seeded Boston Celtics are favored to win the Eastern Conference finals. Otherwise it’s a wide-open race in the East. The last time the Knicks were in the Eastern Conference Finals was in 2000 when they lost to the Indianapolis Pacers four games to two.

“It’s exciting and it’s a lot of work,” Mr. Thibodeau said. “We have to know every (team) well. Once we know who our opponent is we have to dig in. We have a good idea of the possibilities, so you go from there.”

The New York Sun

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