New York Knicks center Mitchell Robinson (23) blocks Philadelphia 76ers...

New York Knicks center Mitchell Robinson (23) blocks Philadelphia 76ers guard Cameron Payne (22) shot in the 2nd quarter in game 1 of an NBA playoff first round, Saturday. April 20, 2024, in Manhattan at Madison Square Garden. Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams Jr.

While the focus deservedly was on the conditioning and condition of Joel Embiid as he worked his way back from left knee surgery, Mitchell Robinson was trying to find his form, too. And when it mattered most, he was at his best.

Robinson played 10 games down the stretch of the season after sitting out 50 games following a surgical procedure to repair a fractured left ankle. He had 12 rebounds and four blocked shots, provided a burst of energy off the bench and did as well as anyone could do in limiting reigning NBA MVP Embiid. He even got an ovation from the Garden crowd when he hit two free throws with 37.5 seconds left to push the Knicks’ lead to seven in their 111-104 win over the 76ers on Saturday in Game 1 of their first-round series.

“I felt more energized,” said Robinson, who played 30 minutes for the first time since Dec. 1. “The crowd helped a lot. Home court, their energy helped us out a lot, so just went out there and played hard.”

Some of that may be working his way through the late-season games, some from the week of practice the Knicks had, and maybe some just because it’s the playoffs. Robinson excelled against Cleveland in last year’s postseason.

“I mean, it’s a dogfight,” he said. “You got to go out there and play hard. You have to. Like, who wants to go home?”

“So the whole month of April, we looked at, OK, he’s got to work his way back,” coach Tom Thibodeau said. “Obviously, when you’re out as long as he’s been, he’s done a great job putting the work into it. In each game, you can see his timing is coming around. Those two big free throws he hit late. But also [he is] able to battle and be physical, move his feet and just anchor the defense. The blocked shots [and] the offensive rebounding is huge.”

As Robinson has worked his way into shape, he has struggled to find his timing. But in the fourth quarter, he had one play in which he blocked a drive by Tyrese Maxey, tiptoed on the baseline, caught the loose ball and bounced it off Maxey to give the Knicks the possession.

“It’s all instinct,” Jalen Brunson said. “And when you see things like that and do things like that, it’s confidence. It’s instinct. It’s just staying in the moment. Obviously, there’s very few times, very rare that plays like that happen. He saw it and took advantage of it, and it’s a credit to his IQ.”


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