Fearless Knicks Lock in Best Finish Since 2013

by Tate Hutchinson

On the morning of April 14, the NBA standings entering the 82nd and final regular season game could not have been more in flux. With only five out of twenty postseason seeds in place, both conferences could shake up significantly based on the results of Sunday’s games. The Knicks were locked into a 2-4 seed finish in the Eastern Conference, and could play any of the Magic, Pacers, 76ers, or Heat in the postseason. Their first-round opponent depended on the results of their own game, each of their potential opponents’ games, and those of their competition for top-half seeding, the Cavaliers and Bucks. There were benefits and risks of playing to win since all games happened concurrently, but the Knicks were all focused on taking care of business against the Bulls at Madison Square Garden.

Despite the Chicago Bulls being firmly locked into their 9th seed standing, the team defied the league’s typical convention of resting players for the playoffs. Checking in at halftime with the Knicks narrowly up three, it was looking like New York would control their destiny based on who they wanted to play. With most of the games being out-of-reach blowouts, the options were the Knicks could lose and finish 3rd to play the Indiana Pacers, or win their game to finish 2nd and play a more formidable 7th seed. A play-in game would decide this placement, likely between a dangerous Philadelphia 76ers team with their superstar Joel Embiid returning, or the always-threatening Miami Heat.

But the Knicks appeared ready for the challenge. An absolute battle between the Knicks and Bulls captivated the league on national TV with the risky 2nd seed on the line. The Bulls brought the energy in late the third quarter, pushing their lead , eventually taking an 8-point lead of their own on a dunk from DeMar DeRozan. From there, a run of three straight makes from deep by the bench squad put New York right back in it. When the starters checked back in, the guard duo of Jalen Brunson and Donte DiVincenzo scored or assisted on the Knicks’ final 16 points to tie it at 109. With the game on the line, Brunson attempted a pull-up three from the corner, but it narrowly rimmed out to send it to overtime. From there, incredible effort from Precious Achiuwa sealed the game, closing out an excellent performance with a 40-piece Brunson masterclass and 25 points poured in by DiVincenzo.

This energy matched the story of the season for New York. Despite being plagued with injuries to three starters, the whole team stepped up and look poised for contention, led by fearless MVP candidate Brunson. He capped off the season with his highest averages of 28.7 pts and 6.7 rebounds per game, with DiVincenzo stepping up as a starter since December, averaging a career-best 17.7 points. Deadline splash acquisition O.G Anunoby made a strong impact on the Knicks, with a 20-3 record in games he plays. The recent news that Julius Randle would undergo right shoulder surgery and miss the remainder of the playoffs would stifle the spirits of a lesser team; however, the Knicks rose to finish 50-32, their best record since 2012-2013.

The 2nd-seeded Knicks would face the winner of the 7-8 play-in game on Wednesday, where Philadelphia 76ers hosted the Heat for a chance to take on New York in the first round. The 76ers, now replenished with 2023 MVP Embiid back from a significant meniscus injury, came back from down 14 to defeat Jimmy Butler’s Heat. The 76ers were a blazing 31-8 with their superstar in the lineup, with projected Most Improved Player Tyrese Maxey at guard. This dynamic duo is backed up by former All-Star Kyle Lowry, breakout wing Kelly Oubre, and scoring forward Tobias Harris. With Philly’s formidable lineup, the Knicks will need to continue to fill in the missing scoring and size of their injured star PF.

New York hosts the Sixers on Saturday at 6:00 PM EDT with the chance to make a statement in the first game of their best-of-seven series. With Embiid likely still limited for Game 1, the Knicks have an opportunity to gain some confidence scoring at the interior. If Anunoby continues to make the impact in perimeter defense at the rate he has—31.9 opposing 3PT% in games he plays—the Knicks can shut down the 76ers’ through their potent shooting. But this Knicks team has shown, above all, one thing, that always gives them a chance: guts.

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