CLEVELAND — Josh Hart brought his favorite snack to his postgame smile — a family-sized pack of Mike & Ike’s — and smiled at the question.
How was his first playoff experience?
“Oh man, that was fun,” Hart said.
Fun and rewarding.
Hart rescued the Knicks on Saturday in Game 1, providing his usual hustle heroics to accompany the biggest shot of the evening.
With his team collapsing in the fourth quarter — falling to the might of Donovan Mitchell — Hart, a player certainly not known for his offense, found himself with the ball and the shot clock dwindling.
Hart looked for a pass to Jalen Brunson, who was guarded too tightly. So he needed to make a play for himself. Hart took a step back with his dribble on Cedi Osman and buried a 3-pointer, the shot that put the Knicks up for good in the 101-97 victory over the Cavs.
“I think Donovan was guarding [Jalen] and obviously Jalen was feeling good so we were trying to get him the ball and let him work,” said Hart, who is battling a sore ankle. “Donovan did a good job of denying him, and it was like, ‘All right, I gotta be aggressive.’ Pulled up and the ball went in.”
Hart’s bucket changed the momentum with 1:46 remaining. On the previous possession, the Cavs took the lead for the first time since the opening quarter. Mitchell was cooking on the way to a game-high 38 points.
But then Hart hit the clutch shot, and the Knicks still needed to close out the victory. They accomplished that through their bread-and-butter — offensive rebounding — with Julius Randle and Isaiah Hartenstein picking up huge extra possessions in the final minute.
Absorbing Mitchell’s best shot — he scored 38 points — the Knicks still won Game 1 and seized homecourt advantage.
“It felt great,” Hart said. “Obviously when you’re in adverse situations, you can either crumble or band together and come out on top. I feel like the latter is what we did. We didn’t get frustrated, didn’t get rattled. We know they’re a good team, and Donovan’s a heck of an offensive player. So we weren’t surprised. We kept the demeanor of, ‘Let’s go about our business. Let’s handle our business, let’s control what we can control.’ That’s our attitude. And we were able to pull it out.”
It was the first NBA playoff game in Cleveland since 2018. Much more startling, the night represented Cleveland’s first playoff game without LeBron James on the roster since 1998.
The atmosphere matched the moment, and the Knicks popped the balloon. Hart was a catalyst off the bench with 17 points and 10 rebounds — including half on offense — while chasing around Mitchell and Darius Garland on the other end.
Brunson dropped 27 points, including nine in the fourth quarter. The point guard battled through early foul trouble.
“Our only game plan today was just win,” Brunson said. “Whatever it took, whatever is needed. That’s it.”
Randle, as expected, returned from his sprained ankle and was thrust in the starting lineup. He seemed to operate under a time restriction while logging 34 minutes — clearly winded after a 17-day layoff — but his confidence remained intact as he scored 19 points on 20 shots.
The spotlight centered on Mitchell as not only the biggest star of the series, but also the happenings of the summer when New York tried — and failed — to acquire the All-Star in a trade.
Beyond that storyline — and beyond Mitchell facing his hometown squad from NY – the series represents an opportunity to change the narrative of his playoff failures. It sets up perfectly against Brunson, the point guard who outplayed Mitchell in last year’s series between the Mavericks and Jazz.
So Mitchell had plenty of motivation Saturday and he responded with a strong performance, including a dive into the third row to recover a loose ball amid the beer and spectators.
But Hart and Brunson left the victors in Game 1.
“You can lose Game 1 at home and it can feel like the end of the world,” Mitchell said. “But it’s one game. We will respond.”
Source: Berkshire mont
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