Home News The Knicks survived the injury bug once. After OG Anunoby’s injury, they...

The Knicks survived the injury bug once. After OG Anunoby’s injury, they believe they can do it again

Josh Hart is sitting at his locker after emptying the tank — again — in Game 2 against the Indiana Pacers on Wednesday.

Hart became the first player since Jimmy Butler in 2013 to play all 48 minutes in two consecutive playoff games. Tom Thibodeau, coincidentally, was head coach on both occasions.

Hart leads the NBA in total minutes played in the postseason and has played all minutes of a game, including one against the Philadelphia 76ers in the first round that went to overtime, four times during this playoff run.

His minutes have become a necessity for a Knicks team ravaged by injury in the regular season, then blasted once again through a round-and-a-half of the playoffs.

OG Anunoby is the latest player to suffer an injury after asking out of Game 2 following a hamstring injury in the third quarter. Hart scoffs at the idea his workload can get any worse.

“I’m playing 48 [minutes] anyways, dog,” Hart said after the Knicks beat the Pacers on Wednesday despite Anunoby’s injury. “Ain’t s—t change.”

The same can be said for a Knicks team replaying a hand it’s been dealt all season.

Nothing changes. Next man up.

It’s hard to believe New York has made it this far in the first place given circumstances that have derailed many a season elsewhere.

The Knicks lost Mitchell Robinson for three-and-a-half months to a stress fracture in his left ankle in early December. They lost Julius Randle on Jan. 27 to what became a season-ending shoulder injury, and Anunoby underwent surgery to remove a loose particle from his right elbow shortly after. He then returned a month-and-a-half later only to aggravate the same elbow and miss additional time.

And just when the Knicks thought things were running smoothly with players returning from injury leading into the playoffs, they took two more blows in the first round: Bojan Bogdanovic’s season ended on an ankle injury diving for a loose ball, and the 76ers targeted Robinson, who re-injured his surgically-repaired ankle in the first round, then sustained another likely season-ending stress reaction in the same ankle in Game 1 against the Pacers.

The Knicks weathered those injuries in the regular season and finished with the Eastern Conference’s No. 2 seed.

They weathered the storm again in the first round to defeat Joel Embiid and his 76ers.

And they did it once more in Game 2 when Jalen Brunson left in the first quarter after tweaking his foot, then returned at halftime, only to watch Anunoby take a knee on the baseline after a layup, then limp his way directly to the locker room on a bad hamstring.

It would be hard to believe the Knicks can’t beat the injury bug one more time — that they can’t sustain yet another blow to a tattered roster — if they didn’t have a season’s worth of receipts showing they’ve done it already.

“I think there’s a blueprint here that Thibs [head coach Tom Thibodeau] has laid out,” starting guard Donte DiVincenzo said after yet another unlikely Knicks’ playoff victory over on Wednesday. “No matter who is on the court, everybody follows that and doesn’t go outside of themselves. So no matter who is in the game, we know what we’re looking to get, and any game we play, as long as we defend with low turnovers, we can win any game. That was the mindset tonight.”

It all sounds good, however, until No. 8 in orange and blue is on the bench, not the court.

Despite missing the final 15:27 of Game 2 at Madison Square Garden, Anunoby continues to rank third among all players still competing in the postseason in total minutes logged. First and second are Hart (374.4 minutes) and Brunson (338.7 minutes). No other players with seasons still alive have logged more than 300 minutes, though a number of stars on other teams are in the 280 to 299-minute range.

The Knicks went 20-3 in the regular season in games Anunoby played in after his arrival in New York and are now 6-2 with him in the postseason. His injury came during his best scoring game of the playoffs.

Anunoby had 28 points on 10-of-20 shooting from the field and 6-of-12 shooting from downtown and played his typical brand of active, stingy defense before limping off the court while holding his leg. Much like the Knicks couldn’t replace Randle’s star power, there is no apples-to-apples fill-in if Anunoby can’t go in Game 3.

Precious Achiuwa has the defensive versatility but isn’t a 40% shooter like Anunoby. Miles McBride is a 40% three-point shooter and scrappy defender, but he’s a guard, not a 6-8 forward like the latest injured Knick.

Alec Burks’ 44-second cameo in Game 2 doesn’t help matters, either.

The Knicks acquired Burks alongside Bogdanovic in the Quentin Grimes-Evan Fournier deal with the Detroit Pistons, but Burks hadn’t seen playoff minutes at all prior to his quick hook in Game 2, and Bogdanovic, who finally found his scoring rhythm, will spend the rest of the offseason rehabbing.

Then there’s Thibodeau, who has been reluctant — for good reason — to play more than seven players in these playoffs.

That didn’t change when the Knicks ruled Robinson out ahead of tipoff on Wednesday, and aside from Burks’ short stint, it didn’t change when Brunson checked out to get his foot examined in the first half, either. Nor did it change when Anunoby left due to a hamstring injury.

Thibodeau trusts Achiuwa and McBride to log playoff minutes off the bench, but no other available players have seen the floor in the playoffs, except Burks, who saw the court, then the bench shortly after.

Yet there still remains a confidence about this Knicks team. Anunoby may not be able to play, but the Knicks believe — even if others don’t — the next man will step up and fill the void.

It’s happened all season. Postseason, too, and with a shot at the franchise’s first appearance in the Eastern Conference Finals since 2000 within reach, these Knicks are looking to whoever fills in for Anunoby, like they looked to the fill-ins for Randle, Robinson, and Anunoby earlier in the season.

They are looking to the next man up. The Knicks can either go big and start Achiuwa in place of Anunoby or downsize against a Pacers team playing three guards by starting McBride.

But they’ve been here before. In fact, they’ve lived here all season, which is why they believe, even if the optics suggest they shouldn’t.

“Obviously you never want injuries and sometimes you say things just to give an answer and kind of get through it, but we actually believe [the phrase next man up],” said Hart. “There’s a lot of guys on this team that can start with other guys in this league, so when we say it, it’s not cliché. It’s not just  [that] we’re saying it just because it sounds good. We’re actually saying it because we believe it. I’ve got faith in every one of our guys. So with stuff like [injuries], sometimes it sucks, it’s like, ‘damn we can’t catch a break?’

“But we truly believe it’s next man up.”


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