Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau, center, gives his team instruction...

Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau, center, gives his team instruction during a timeout in the first half in Game 1 of an NBA first-round playoff series against the 76ers on Saturday at Madison Square Garden. Credit: AP/Mary Altaffer

Donte DiVincenzo went to the bench with 2:51 left in the third quarter in Game 1 Saturday night and waited for his chance again as the game shifted back and forth between the Knicks and 76ers. But the chance never came as he sat on the bench to the final buzzer. Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau was riding the hot hand of Deuce McBride as the Knicks escaped with a hard-fought win.

And if you think that DiVincenzo, in his first starring role in the postseason, was grumbling on the bench then you don’t know him or this Knicks team.

“It’s not, 'I have to sit,’” DiVincenzo said. “For me, it’s win the [darn] game. I did not have it going. Regular season game usually Thibs is, ‘You’re going in.’ I’d probably go back in around five or six [minutes left]. Deuce comes in, he’s also playing tremendous defense.

“I played the whole third quarter straight. And you’ve got to look at the lineup that we had to start the third. They made a run [and the starters] were all negative. Deuce comes in, changes the game. This time of the year it’s all about winning the game. I think Thibs obviously understands that. I’ve been through this, I understand that every night is a different game. [Monday night] is going to be a different game.”

For DiVincenzo, it wasn’t so much that he didn’t have it going. He shot just 3-for-10 — 2-for-5 beyond the arc — and has had plenty of games where he catches fire late. But McBride came off the bench and had it going from the moment he touched the floor, scoring 21 points in 28 minutes. And as DiVincenzo noted, the harassing defense that McBride specializes in was the best chance the Knicks had to slow down Philadelphia’s Tyrese Maxey. Maxey was running a downhill slalom to the rim all night en route to 33 points.

“On some nights, it’s matchup,” Thibodeau said. “Someone gets going and that’s what gives us the best chance to win. So if you’re not in there, you just support your teammates and you do everything you can to help the team that way. So be engaged in the game. Your bench guys are supporting your starters also, so the two go hand in hand.”

That the Knicks still managed to pull out a 111-104 win on a night when every one of the starting five had a negative plus-minus is testament to the performance of the three bench players who took over — McBride a plus-37, the best number of any Knicks player in the franchise’s postseason history, along with Mitchell Robinson and Bojan Bogdanovic.

It may not happen again that the bench will take over as they did in Game 1 and maybe more unlikely that the starters will struggle as they did Saturday. Jalen Brunson was just 8-for-26 shooting and had five turnovers. OG Anunoby had his first game as a Knick with a negative plus-minus since his arrival in the Dec. 30 trade from Toronto. Josh Hart got a hot hand in the fourth quarter, scoring 13 of his 22 points, but struggled before that offensively.

“The bench guys understand that because they’re the ones that come in to change the game and if they don’t the starters go back in,” DiVincenzo said. “The starters have to understand, put your pride aside, win the game. Everybody here wants everybody to be successful. Deuce understands every game is going to be different. So when he comes in and changes the game, it’s not, ‘Ah, I’m not going back in the game.’ It’s 'all right, Deuce, keep rolling, let’s win the game.’ Then we’ll watch film and adjust. Jalen struggled a little last game [and] tonight might be his game. Our mindset is to get to 16 wins and that’s it.”

To get to 16 the Knicks certainly will lean on Brunson and the starters, but know they need something from everyone.

“It's the trust and belief Thibs has in everybody on his roster,” DiVincenzo said. “The notion is he plays high minutes and this and that. He plays who's playing well. That gives everyone confidence.

“Thinking about what Deuce did, he came in and played well and he stayed with him. Rightfully so, and Deuce helped us win that game. So, having that confidence that you know if you get in there and play well, you’re not just coming out because it’s your time to come out on the sheet. Thibs is going to rock with you and it gives you all the more confidence to go work hard in practice [and] go work hard in individual workouts because you can trust your work.”


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