It might have seemed as if Mikal Bridges had a little bit extra to play for when he took the floor at Madison Square Garden on April 26 against the Knicks.
While Chris Paul deservedly got the attention when he hit three shots in the final 90 seconds — each with an increasing degree of difficulty — to finish off a 118-110 win over the Knicks, ending their winning streak at nine games, Bridges had done just as much to put the Suns in position for the victory.
Bridges had 21 points, shot 8-for-12 and added four rebounds, three assists, two steals and a number of highlights. He sank a pair of three-pointers late in the third quarter to push the Suns in front after they trailed by as many as 15 and added a three and a driving dunk late in the game.
But he dismissed any notion that there was an ulterior motive driving him that night.
"No, just another game, the next game," he said after the Suns’ morning shootaround Friday before their game against the visiting Knicks. "I love MSG though, been in the area a lot, probably more games than any other arena besides our home arena in college [Villanova]. So I just love playing there. But nah, just another game for us that we had to win against a really good team, stepping up in the moment and playing hard."
If Bridges holds any sort of animosity, it most likely would be directed at the team that drafted him in 2018 and traded him that night, the Philadelphia 76ers. His mother, Tyneeha Rivers, served as the vice president of human resources for Harris Blitzer Sports and Entertainment, which owns the 76ers.
When Bridges was selected No. 10 overall out of Villanova, ESPN interviewed his mom as part of its draft coverage and she spoke of how amazing it was, ending her interview by shouting "Go Sixers!"
But shortly after the pick was made and the interviews were complete, the 76ers sent Bridges to the Suns for the No. 16 pick, Zhaire Smith, and the Miami Heat’s unprotected 2021 first-round pick.
It is the Knicks fans who likely hold the biggest grudge for what happened that night. Coming out of national champion Villanova along with three teammates in the draft, Bridges has become a reliable two-way player, averaging 13.4 points per game, shooting 41.5% from beyond the arc and providing solid defense to anchor the Suns (47-19), who entered Friday one game behind the Jazz for the best record in the NBA.
The Knicks passed on Bridges and instead took Kevin Knox one spot ahead of the 76ers' pick at No. 9 overall. While Knox was expected to be a project at that time — he was only 18 years old on the day of the draft — to this point, he has accumulated a -2.6 in Value Over Replacement Player — the worst of any player in the 2018 draft. Bridges holds a 4.4 VORP, fourth in the draft behind only Luka Doncic (13.6), Trae Young (6.8) and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (4.8)
In the first Knicks-Suns game this season, Bridges played 41 minutes and Knox never got in the game. He has played only 98 minutes in the Knicks' last 46 games.
The Knicks (37-29) entered Friday in fourth place in the Eastern Conference, a game ahead of the Hawks, and had won 12 of their previous 14 games. If Bridges doesn't hold any hard feelings toward the Knicks for passing on him, he does hold admiration for what they’ve accomplished — even if he helped end the winning streak.
"Yeah, they’re a really good team," Bridges said. "Really well-coached, defend really well, and on the offensive end, they’re playing unbelievable. They’re talented. They’re doing what they’re supposed to be doing. A lot of credit to them, because they got the guys that are going to put in the work, play hard for their coaches and teammates, and that’s what they’re doing."