The Knicks’ Jalen Brunson drives against the 76ers’ Tyrese Maxey...

The Knicks’ Jalen Brunson drives against the 76ers’ Tyrese Maxey during the fourth quarter in Game 1 of their NBA Eastern Conference first-round playoff series at Madison Square Garden on Saturday. Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams Jr.

Now is not the time to exhale.

It doesn’t matter that the Knicks are 1-0 in the postseason. It doesn’t matter that they found a way to beat Philadelphia in Game 1 despite the fact that Jalen Brunson and OG Anunoby, their two biggest stars, had subpar games.

It doesn’t matter that Joel Embiid again is listed as questionable for Game 2 and late in Saturday’s game was moving around the floor as if he had a weight strapped to his left leg.

The Knicks have to enter Madison Square Garden on Monday at full throttle. They have to seize this opportunity, because whichever team wins this game is going to be the hands-down favorite to take the next round and win a date with the Celtics in the Eastern Conference finals.

Oh, my, I know we’re getting way ahead of ourselves. It’s hard not to with the way this Knicks team played down the final stretch of the season as they chased after a high seed.

Some thought the Knicks were crazy to go after the No. 2 seed and end up with a tough first-round matchup. But the way the Knicks played in Game 1, coming back from a 13-point deficit to take control in their 111-104 win, was enough to send a message to the rest of the league that they are much more than a one-star team.

About that one star: Brunson had one of his worst games in recent memory, turning the ball over five times and missing 18 of his 26 shots. The Knicks were a minus-3 with Brunson on the floor.

How rare is that? Only once in the regular season — against Memphis in February — did the Knicks win a game in which Brunson’s plus-minus rating was in negative territory.

“Games where your best player is not scoring the ball well or struggling to score a little bit and everybody else picks him up and we’re able to get a win, that’s huge,” said Josh Hart, who scored 13 of his 22 points in the fourth quarter, including three three-pointers. “Knowing JB, he’s going to continue to put the work in, continue to be aggressive, which is what we need.

“He’s not going to shoot that bad for the series. A game like that was definitely encouraging for all of us.”

Brunson wasn’t alone in his struggle. Anunoby had his worst game as a Knick. In his 23 regular-season games with the team, he was a plus-15.3 and the team was 20-3. On Saturday against Philadelphia, Anunoby was a minus-5, marking the first time the Knicks have scored fewer points than their opponent when he is on the floor.

Philadelphia coach Nick Nurse coached Anunoby for five seasons with Toronto, so he might have been able to share a few insights with his players on Anunoby’s defensive style.

Perhaps the biggest thing the Knicks cannot do is count on Embiid being limited, even though he clearly was struggling in the second half Saturday after it appeared he hurt his surgically repaired left knee in the second quarter.

After rolling around on the floor and clutching his knee, he left for the locker room with 2:37 remaining in the quarter. He returned for the second half but looked nothing like the player who had led all scorers with 18 first-half points. In the last two quarters, he shot 2-for-11, although he did sink all six of his free throws.

Embiid’s health remains a bit of a mystery. He did not talk to reporters after the Game 1 loss and was not made available after the team’s voluntary shooting practice on Sunday. Nurse said only that Embiid was feeling “pretty good.”

No matter who is available, Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said the Knicks have to come in with the mentality that they need to keep improving.

“And I think the important thing is to realize that we have to be better in the next game, and that’s sort of the nature of the playoffs,” Thibodeau said. “You’re playing the same team over and over again. So we’re going to have to be at our best.”


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