The Knicks defeated the Philadelphia 76ers in Game 1 on Saturday at Madison Square Garden. Tom Thibodeau, Josh Hart and Jalen Brunson discussed the victory postgame. Credit: Newsday/William Perlman

On the wall leading to the Knicks’ locker room, there was a new strip of wallpaper inscribed with the words “No quit. All grit. Close-knit.’’

Maybe it’s just a motivational tactic, the 2024 Knicks’ version of shaved heads and black sneakers that once served a similar purpose for the franchise.

But on a night when Jalen Brunson had to fight for every inch of space on the floor and endured a tough shooting night, it was the other players who delivered the biggest shots as the Knicks overcame the Philadelphia 76ers, 111-104, in Game 1 of their best-of-seven first-round series at a raucous Madison Square Garden.

An opening arrived when Joel Embiid reinjured his surgically repaired left knee in the second quarter, which limited him to 11 second-half points and 29 on the night after a red-hot start. And it was the unlikely pieces who barged through that opening — Deuce McBride, Bojan Bogdanovic and Mitchell Robinson off the bench, Josh Hart coming back from a brutal shooting night to drain three three-point field goals in the fourth quarter, and a little bit from every player on the floor.

When Hart grabbed an offensive rebound, racing past a line of 76ers to secure the ball, he celebrated, first with a scream of joy and then with two free throws with 2.7 seconds left to secure the win.

“I was saying a bunch of stuff. Some expletives,” Hart said. “So tell my mom and dad sorry for the language. It was just the passion that I play with. I knew I was going to be left open, disrespected on the three-point line, and if you base it off numbers in the regular season, I think I shot like 30%. So it’s a smart game plan. For me, it’s just continue to take shots. I made my first one and missed my next four. And normally I would have just been hesitant. But just continue to shoot, continue to shoot. Make them respect me.”

“He was phenomenal,” Brunson said. “There were a couple of times in the first half when he was open and didn’t shoot and we kept telling him to shoot. If you’re open, shoot.”

Hart scored 13 of his 22 points in the fourth quarter to go along with 13 rebounds. Brunson, who shot 8-for-26, had 22 points, seven rebounds and seven assists and McBride added 21 points.

After the Knicks fell behind by 13 in the first quarter, it was an infusion of energy from the bench — Bogdanovic with 13 points, Robinson with 12 rebounds and four blocked shots — that turned the game.

Asked on the court after the game what it took to secure the win, Brunson simply said, “Deuce McBride.”

With 2:49 left in the first half, Embiid was rolling and maybe feeling too good, flipping the ball off the backboard to himself as he slipped past Robinson and quickly rising and slamming in a dunk over OG Anunoby, giving him 18 points in 16 minutes.

But Embiid had not even attempted a dunk in his six games since returning from a surgical procedure to repair a torn left lateral meniscus. As he came down, he landed hard on his left leg, immediately falling like a planned demolition, collapsing in stages to the floor. He writhed in pain before being helped to the locker room.

With Embiid unavailable, the Knicks ran off seven more points and took a 58-46 lead into halftime. The biggest mystery during the halftime break seemed to be not if the Knicks would win but the extent of Embiid’s injury and whether he was done for the series.

But when the teams took the court to start the second half, Embiid came out of the locker room — not Willis Reed limping onto the court, but a close remake of the 81st game of the regular season for Philadelphia, when Embiid left with a knee injury in the second quarter and returned after halftime.

“You can’t win an MVP without being a great player,” Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said. “We know how good he is, and when he goes down, you always think that a guy’s coming back. You don’t think he’s staying out. And so that’s what we anticipated.”

Embiid’s first shot of the second half was an air ball from three-point range, but he managed to remain on the court. There was a blotch of blood on the knee of his white tights, echoing the bloody sock of Boston Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling in 2004. Embiid looked like a shadow of the player he was before the fall, but whether it was the emotional boost he provided or his ability to draw defenders, the 76ers turned the game back in their favor in the third quarter.

The Knicks built a 14-point lead, but the 76ers fought back, with Tyrese Maxey (33 points) doing much of the damage.

The Knicks have struggled all season to find a way to survive the minutes with Brunson off the floor, but on this night, it was that second unit that provided the lift they needed — even before Embiid went down.

McBride had 13 points in the second quarter as the Knicks outscored Philadelphia 32-13, with the crowd repeatedly chanting “Deuce!” That was something he couldn’t ignore.

“I try to stay locked in,” he said. “But obviously the Garden is the Garden. It’s a special place, the fans were on fire tonight and I couldn’t be more appreciative of it.”


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