SI:AM | The Knicks Are the NBA’s Most Fun Team

The vibes are immaculate at MSG.
New York’s supporting cast has come up huge against Philadelphia.
New York’s supporting cast has come up huge against Philadelphia. / Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Good morning, I’m Dan Gartland. I really wish I could have been at the Garden for that Donte DiVincenzo shot.

In today’s SI:AM: 

🤯 The Knicks pull out another win
🏈 Our latest NFL mock draft
👨‍⚖️ What’s wrong with Aaron Judge?

What a finish at MSG

Are the New York Knicks good? Maybe. But are their vibes better than any team in the league? Absolutely.

The Knicks grinded out a 104–101 win over the Philadelphia 76ers to take a 2–0 series lead Monday night. It looked as though the Sixers were in the driver’s seat after Tyrese Maxey hit a long three with 1:09 to play that gave Philadelphia a 100–96 lead. But after Kyle Lowry missed the second of two free throws with 47 seconds left and Philly up 101–96, the whole game turned on its head.

It started when Jalen Brunson got a miraculous bounce off the rim on a three-pointer to make it 101–99. Then, Brunson and Hart hounded Maxey on the inbounds and forced a turnover. Hart found Donte DiVincenzo on the wing for a three-point attempt, which he missed, but Isaiah Hartenstein got the offensive rebound, passed to OG Anunoby as he was falling to the ground and Anunoby kicked it out to DiVincenzo for another look at three. He didn’t miss that one, and the Knicks took a 102–101 lead with 13 seconds left. The noise inside Madison Square Garden was deafening. (You can watch the entire ending of the game here.)

The Knicks didn’t play the prettiest game. They posted an ugly .407 field goal percentage, well below their season average of .465. But they made the right plays at the right times and came away with the victory.

The most likable teams in the NBA aren’t always the ones that play the most beautiful brand of basketball. Sure, it’s a joy to watch Nikola Jokić flummox defenses with mystical passes, and it was amazing to watch the Golden State Warriors teams of the last decade lay waste to the record books with an unparalleled collection of scoring talent. But it can be just as enjoyable to see teams like the “Grit and Grind” Memphis Grizzlies win games thanks to sheer tenacity and effort.

That’s what the Knicks have done in their first two playoff games. Their most important player during the final minute of the game might have been Hartenstein. He made a fantastic play to follow DiVincenzo’s shot and collect the offensive rebound, then, on the next Sixers possession, got isolated on Maxey after a screen by Joel Embiid and still managed to force Maxey to miss a layup, effectively sealing the game. Hartenstein is a name most fans won’t be familiar with. This is his sixth season in the NBA. He only became a regular starter for the first time in his career in December after an injury to Mitchell Robinson. His contributions don’t always show up in the box score (he averaged 7.8 points and 8.3 rebounds per game this season) but he makes the hustle plays that help teams win games.

The Knicks have needed every bit of effort from guys like Hartenstein to win these first two games of the series. New York is playing shorthanded without the injured Julius Randle. Although that’s nothing new—he hasn’t played since Jan. 27 and the Knicks still finished second in the East. But Randle’s absence places more pressure on Brunson to shoulder the scoring load, and Brunson has shot the ball uncharacteristically poorly in the series. He had 22 points on 8-of-26 shooting in Game 1 and 24 points on 8-of-29 shooting on Monday. His teammates have picked up the slack, though, particularly Josh Hart, who after averaging 9.4 points per game this season had 22 in Game 1 and 21 in Game 2.

Hart, though, also illustrates a potential problem with the Knicks’ all-out effort. Over the final 36 games of the regular season (the point at which Hart became a full-time starter), he averaged a stunning 39.9 minutes per game. The league leader in minutes per game this season was DeMar DeRozan with 37.8. On Monday, Hart played all 48 minutes. It was the ninth time in the last 61 days that he played at least 44 minutes.

That’s part of playing for Tom Thibodeau, though. DiVincenzo, for example, played over 52 minutes in the Knicks’ regular season finale. After having already played a long regular season, will players be able to hold up over the course of the postseason while playing those sorts of minutes? We’ll see. But in the meantime, the way these Knicks scratch and claw their way to wins has fans in New York riding higher than they have in years.

Jan 8, 2024; Houston, TX, USA; Washington’s Michael Penix Jr. scrambles vs. Michigan in the 2024 national championship game.
Will Penix slide into the first round of the NFL draft Thursday? / Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The best of Sports Illustrated

The top five…

… things I saw last night: 

5. Javier Báez’s quick reaction to field a sharp liner on the short hop and make a long throw to first for the out.
4. Jared Jones’s nasty slider that sent Brice Turang tumbling to the ground.
3. Connor McDavid’s gorgeous stickhandling, leading to an assist to Zach Hyman.
2. Jamal Murray’s fadeaway game-winner over Anthony Davis.
1. Mike Breen’s rare double “Bang!” call on the home broadcast of Donte DiVincenzo’s clutch three.

Dan Gartland


Dan Gartland is the writer and editor of Sports Illustrated’s flagship daily newsletter, SI:AM, covering everything an educated sports fan needs to know. Previously published on Deadspin and Slate, Dan also is a former Sports Jeopardy! champion (Season 1, Episode 5).