The Knicks' Josh Hart reacts after hitting a three-pointer in...

The Knicks' Josh Hart reacts after hitting a three-pointer in the fourth quarter against the 76ers in Game 1 of their NBA Eastern Conference first-round playoff series on Saturday at Madison Square Garden. Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams Jr.

GREENBURGH — In the final minute of the Knicks’ 111-104 Game 1 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers at Madison Square Garden on Saturday, Josh Hart celebrated with an unprintable scream to the crowd, maybe no less unprintable than what most of them were screaming much of the night.

And maybe that’s why Hart, who has neither elicited “MVP” chants at the Garden nor been a subject of any of the postseason award talk, has endeared himself to the fans. He isn’t a superstar talent, but he’s one of them.

New Yorkers picture themselves, maybe rightly so, as grittier than other cities, so why wouldn’t they love a player who regularly gives nearly a foot away to players he outworks for rebounds. A player who races around the floor in a way that prompted Jalen Brunson, when asked what Hart brings to the Knicks’ starting lineup, to joke: “Cardio.”

But with the “NY” braided into his hair for the playoffs and the wild celebration that even got John Starks out of his seat and pumping his fist, Hart has become the conduit between the team and the fans at Madison Square Garden.

“For me really, it fits my game,” Hart said of New York, the fourth team he has played for and the one where he seems to have found a home. “I’m someone, just a regular person who goes out there and plays the game extremely hard, extremely passionate and just resilient.

“I think that’s the biggest thing. I think that’s what this city is in general. That’s just how I feel like I am. I’m going to bring the energy, I’m going to bring the passion, toughness. And if I get knocked down, I’m going to pick myself up. Sometimes I might have to have my teammates pick me up. That’s just my mentality.”

Hart helped bail out the Knicks in Game 1, contributing 22 points and 13 rebounds, with 13 of his points coming in the fourth quarter to bring the team from behind on a rare night when Brunson was struggling to find his offense.

But as big as the shots were, it is always something more than that with Hart.

“Everything,” coach Tom Thibodeau said. “His rebounding, his hustle, shot-making, big plays, loose balls. Just competing on every play, a lot of intangibles. Even though he had great stats, you really can’t measure him that way.”

Hart has six triple-doubles this season, giving a little of whatever the Knicks need. But he is always doing it in an all-out manner that has endeared him to the fans and drawn comparisons with the hard-nosed Knicks squads of the 1990s.

“When I see John Starks, he always mentions it, the toughness and method they had, that the city has and this team has, myself included,” Hart said. “For me, that’s a huge accomplishment. That’s what I feel like this city, the team, this franchise, especially with Thibs and Leon [Rose, the Knicks’ president] and Wes [VP William Wesley], that’s what we’re building.”

He has appealed to the upper-deck crowd, the ones who fill the streets in wild celebrations after the game, but also to the long-suffering celebrity fans such as Tracy Morgan, Ben Stiller and Fat Joe, all of whom have appeared on The Roommates Show podcast Hart has with Brunson. And in most of those, he sees a difference from the celebrities in the front rows in Los Angeles.

“Those are guys who are lifelong Knicks fans,” Hart said. “All of them talk about being in the nosebleeds when they were kids, scalping tickets, and now they’re gifted $100,000 seats. It’s amazing for them to really see. But for sure, it’s cool, because you see the passion that they have. It’s not just that they’re on the court kind of having fun, wanting to be seen. They’re really passionate fans.”

And it is Hart who usually fires up the group now, rekindling fond memories of those old Knicks squads, as he did with an enthusiastic celebration Saturday.

“I was saying a bunch of stuff. Some expletives,” Hart said after the game. “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.”


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