Super ‘Novas> ‘Cap n’ Clyde?

Things looked a little dark for the Knicks last night during Game 2 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series with the Indiana Pacers.  Particularly during the second quarter, just after the guy that had scored 40 points in four consecutive playoff games departed and sent the sellout Madison Square Garden crowd into a panic attack the likes of which had not been seen in 54 years.

Those old enough to recall remember how the Knicks’ captain Willis Reed had been injured during Game 5 of the NBA finals, a game the Knicks were able to win on their home court 107-100 to take a 3-2 edge in pursuit of their first-ever title.  The torn thigh muscle Reed suffered kept him out of Game 6 in Los Angeles, where the Lakers pummeled the rudderless Knicks 135-113 to send the series back cross-country for a climactic game that took place on the exact same date in 1970–May 8–that saw Jalen Brunson miss the last 13 1/2 minutes of the first half.  As WTTV’s Phil Nardiello reported:

The Pacers took advantage of New York’s All-Star Brunson missing the whole second quarter with a foot injury. (Tyreke) Haliburton added another nine points on three three-pointers as Indiana led 73-63 at halftime.

But just like Reed was able to shift the emotional momentum so dramatically when he limped onto the court just before Game 7’s tip-off, it turned out Brunson was anything but done for the night.  As THE ATHLETIC’s Fred Katz reported:

The New York Knicks point guard jogged out from the tunnel as if it were a wormhole. He was early, the first of his teammates to return to the court for the second half of a tight game against the Indiana Pacers. But at the same time, Brunson was late. The fans watching him had awaited his arrival for long enough that Madison Square Garden was tense.

The Knicks’ top player, the man who had just finished fifth in MVP voting earlier that evening, had mysteriously vanished, questionable to return with an ambiguous injury: right foot soreness.

In one moment, the gusto came back. If you could not see Brunson’s emergence from the tunnel, you would have heard it.

He jogged out unperturbed with minutes to go until the start of the third quarter and walked onto the court as the crowd offered a standing ovation, which he did not acknowledge. He strolled to the free-throw line, where Josh Hart greeted him for a second and then let him be.

But while Reed was merely able to provide a couple of early baskets in what turned out to be largely a defensive presence and a mere 27 minutes of action, Brunson actually channeled the kind of performance that another Knicks point guard legend was able to create that memorable night, thoughts that he had previously shared on X earlier that night via NEW YORK BASKETBALL:

“If he didn’t do what he did, I wouldn’t have had that game.” –– Walt Frazier on an injured Willis Reed emerging from the tunnel to start Game 7 Clyde went for 36 points & 19 assists and the Knicks won their first NBA championship.

And as Katz reported, Brunson channeled the output of Clyde after he evoked the emotion of the Captain:

Brunson ran for the entire second half on an injured foot, going for 24 points just in the third and fourth quarters, and leading the Knicks to a 130-121 victory in Game 2 of their second-round playoff series against Indiana. It now leads the series 2-0.

And as News 12 Brooklyn reminded, he got more than a little help from a couple of teammates he’s extremely familiar with:

(T)hey got Brunson back and received huge efforts again from his two Villanova teammates. Donte DiVincenzo scored 28 points and Josh Hart had 19 points, 15 rebounds and seven assists for the No. 2-seeded Knicks.

That’s 76 points all told for three former Wildcats, or more than half of what the Knicks needed to do to finally run down a determined Indiana squad.

He’s a warrior,” Hart said. “We know he wants to be out there. It was great for him to be out there, great for him to finish the game. Hopefully, he’s not too sore tomorrow. But this team has fight. That’s what we’re built off of.”

And as CBS Sports’ Douglas Clawson added, we haven’t seen this kind of alumni camaraderie anywhere in the NBA for quite a long time:

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Brunson, Hart and DiVincenzo are the second trio of college teammates to start an NBA playoff game together in the modern draft era (since 1966).

The other was Antoine Walker, Tony Delk and Walter McCarty, who won a playoff series together with the 2003 Celtics after they were teammates for two seasons at Kentucky. The Villanova trio won a title together in 2016 (DiVincenzo redshirted) and the Kentucky trio won a title in 1996. 

The Nova Knicks separate themselves from that Kentucky trio, though, by putting up bigger numbers and threatening to go deeper into the postseason. According to OptaSTATS, Brunson, Hart and DiVincenzo are the first trio of teammates from the same college to each score 20 points in an NBA playoff game. 

So yep, what we’re seeing unfold at MSG for the past three weeks is pretty rare and pretty special.   Knicks fans haven’t seen a run like this since the 1990s, when they were able to twice knock off a Pacers team led by Reggie Miller, ironically broadcasting the game for TNT last night, a couple of times en route to two NBA finals appearances. Let alone the kind of inspiration and output that Brunson and company were able to produce that hasn’t been seen on this court since its was the newest arena in the league, not the oldest as it currently is.

They won a title in college.  They’ve got a ways to go to win one in the pros–these Knicks still haven’t made a conference finals in this century, and Boston looks pretty damn good themselves.  Let alone the Western Conference’s Wolves and Oklahoma City Thunder, both of which have yet to lose a post-season game.

But there is precedent both for players and franchise. And let’s just say after last night, would you honestly be surprised if this super ‘Nova streaked deep into June?

Courage…

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