Knicks guard Josh Hart dribbles during the first quarter in Game...

Knicks guard Josh Hart dribbles during the first quarter in Game 7 of the NBA Eastern Conference Semifinals on Sunday at Madison Square Garden. Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams Jr.

OG Anunoby’s return was a gamble, but few in the Knicks’ locker room — and few who watched him this season — would have bet against Josh Hart taking the floor.

Hart suffered an abdominal strain in Game 6 on Friday night but repeatedly tried to get back into the game. Despite his iron man reputation, he finally gave in and sat out the final minutes of that game.

Hart was listed as questionable until shortly before game time Sunday afternoon, testing his ability to handle the pain shortly before Game 7.

Then he played 36:33, scoring 10 points and grabbing eight rebounds. And when he fouled out with three minutes left, the Madison Square Garden crowd rose and gave him a standing ovation, chanting his name.

“It’s huge,” Hart said of the fan reaction. “I came here last year, I think this is like my fourth team, my sixth coach, my fourth franchise. I wanted a home. And obviously the front office believed in me and gave me a contract. Thibs played me. The city embraced me. For me, that means a lot.

“And for me, the only way I can repay them is just to continue to put my body on the line, give everything I have and leave my heart on that court. I feel like I did that this year.

“I’ve just got to thank the fans for just embracing me this year. I’m not perfect. There’s a lot of ups and downs with Josh Hart. But they embraced me and they sent me love this whole time.”

The test came Sunday afternoon, but the decision really was made about 36 hours earlier, when the need for a Game 7 at Madison Square Garden became a reality. And with nothing assured beyond Sunday afternoon, Hart was determined to be on the court.

So when the Knicks emerged from the locker room, Anunoby followed the majority of the team out of the tunnel to a loud chant of “OG” and Hart took the court shortly after that to another loud round of applause.

“I mean, this is Game 7 at the Garden,” Hart said before warming up. “My whole process, even when I went out of the game, you know, was what do I have to do to play. That’s my thoughts on it.”

“It’s unfortunate,” coach Tom Thibodeau said. “You hate to see all the injuries. Josh and OG just tried to give us whatever they had. It says a lot about them. It was hit after hit, that’s part of it. Guys responded all year long. I’m disappointed in the sense that we’re not gonna play anymore, but I thought they were a great group to be around and they gave everything they had.”


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