Josh Hart's most important skill: Winning
The television cameras could have focused almost anywhere in Madison Square Garden, capturing any of the 19,812 fans shouting out the lyrics as the Garden scoreboard played karaoke cam. But the camera went to the Knicks' bench where, while most of the players on both the Knicks and Cavaliers were focusing on the tension of a crucial playoff game, Josh Hart was singing along, appropriately, to 'Don't Stop Believing.'
Unfortunately for Hart, the video included sound and let’s just say that among his many important contributions to the Knicks, singing will not be one of them.
“I can’t sing,” Hart acknowledged after helping the Knicks to a 102-93 Game 4 win. “I really wish I could. I said it before, if I could sing, I probably wouldn’t be playing basketball. At that point, the vocals were terrible. I was shooting the ball really bad. It was bad. That’s all I can say.”
The Knicks will take that flaw, considering Hart scored 19 points, grabbed seven rebounds and took on the task of guarding Donovan Mitchell in 40 minutes of playing time as he started in place of Quentin Grimes, who was sidelined with a right shoulder contusion.
It was nothing new for Hart’s tenure in New York. He arrived at the trade deadline and immediately had an impact, the Knicks winning nine straight games as he joined the rotation. They finished the season 17-8 in the 25 games he was with the team. And now they have taken a commanding — and surprising — 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven series.
Hart's numbers are good — 60% shooting from the field in the first four games, including 55.6% from beyond the arc. But it’s more than the numbers. He has fit in seamlessly, some of it because his skill set — Cleveland coach J.B. Bickerstaff called his skill “winning” — fits exactly with what Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau commands of his team. And part of it is that he has an almost extrasensory perception fit with Jalen Brunson, the two combining to win a national championship at Villanova.
The postgame media sessions with the two sitting next to each other are lighthearted sitcoms, a Seinfeld episode for the 2023 Knicks fan, with Brunson trying to keep a straight face and speaking in coaching cliches while Hart brings comic relief. After the Knicks' Game 1 victory he showed up with a large box of candy and wearing a T-shirt with a photo of Brunson on it. The Game 3 postgame victory talk featured Hart staring intently at Brunson until he finally laughed and said, “You’re such a child.” Game 4 included memories of their last time in a starting lineup together — Brunson waiting until the cameras were off to note that they lost that game at Villanova in the 2017 NCAA Tournament because Hart came up empty on a last-chance drive against Wisconsin.
But between the banter, both acknowledged how important the other is to the team.
“He’s been a person that has adapted to every situation that he’s been a part of, and he’s made it work,” Brunson said. “He understands what’s needed of him and what he needs to do out there, and he does it. That’s how he’s been. That’s how he’s been raised. He’s always been raised to be that type of guy. He’s that guy on and off the floor. There’s not enough good things I can say about him.”
“I think what he does at an elite level is he impacts winning,” Bickerstaff said. “However he does it, he figures out a way to help his team. Some nights, it’s taking charges. Some nights, it’s making shots. Back in Game 1 he hits the big pull-up. He just has a way of impacting the game in a positive way for his team as a player.”
The Knicks are Hart’s fourth team in six NBA seasons and he can become an unrestricted free agent this summer. It’s hard to imagine the Knicks' front office not finding a solution to keep him in New York as he has already become a folk hero with his hustle and big shots.
“Getting him, that was the final part of it, and he fit into the group perfectly,” Thibodeau said. “So, I think it was a continuation because Josh has been huge for us.”