Hartford Courant

Hart’s debut garners standing ovation from the MSG crowd

- By Stefan Bondy

Valentine’s Day came a little early for Knicks fans.

Josh Hart, the gritty shooting guard, won over hearts quickly at the Garden with his intensity and bravado, giving the otherwise vanilla Knicks some personalit­y.

“I’m a dog,” Hart repeated a couple times before and after his debut performanc­e.

Following the victory over the Jazz, the Garden fans provided a standing ovation for Hart as he stepped to the microphone for the on-court interview.

Harts were in their eyes. “That’s what this city is about and what the city builds off of,” Hart said. “I take that with pride. I’m just a blue collar guy; I think that’s really going to work well here.”

Hart logged 26 minutes in the 126-120 win, collecting hustle stats like rebounds, deflection­s and steals. He was a free safety on defense, interrupti­ng passing lanes and blitzing when appropriat­e. The Knicks have to hope his adrenaline — and injection of energy — continues through the final two months of the season.

Coach Tom Thibodeau was pleasantly surprised by the performanc­e of a player who hadn’t gone through a practice after being acquired from the Blazers on Thursday via trade.

“I wasn’t quite sure, but that’s who he is,” Thibodeau said. “And to be able to do it, the way he did, it was unusual. He was at the game [with his previous team, Portland, on Wednesday], he had to go through his physical [Friday], and he drove down to Philly to be with the team and came back today on a back-toback, and to jump out there and

play as well as he did is a credit to him. Brought a lot of energy and toughness to the game.”

Thibodeau was a fan of Hart before the trade, and the 26 minutes on Saturday — including the entirety of the fourth quarter — was validation. Now the question is what happens to the rotation. A clear consequenc­e was Miles Mcbride logging his first DNP since November. Because Thibodeau uses a nine-man rotation, Mcbride is clearly out unless there’s an injury or foul trouble.

“It’s not easy,” Thibodeau said. “But that’s part of being a team and putting the team first. I love [Mcbride] and I love the way he’s played. And so, just stay ready. I love who he is as a person. I love the way he’s worked. I love his improvemen­t. You never know when it comes back around. So

nothing’s set in stone. So we’re still trying to figure this out.”

The other falling domino was less time for Quentin Grimes, who started at shooting guard but played fewer than 30 minutes for just the second time in his last 31 appearance­s.

At least on the first attempt, the new formula worked.

“The first game [after you get traded] you’ve just got to go out there and play basketball. I think that was the biggest thing,” Hart said. “The way this team plays, the way coach coaches, it’s freedom in a controlled environmen­t. I think that’s the biggest thing. It’s good quality basketball and you’ve got unselfish guys. That’s the biggest thing. So me being able to jump in there, everything just felt like it formed well. It felt good.”

 ?? BRYAN WOOLSTON/AP ?? New York Knicks guard Josh Hart watches warmups before the team’s NBA game against Utah.
BRYAN WOOLSTON/AP New York Knicks guard Josh Hart watches warmups before the team’s NBA game against Utah.

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