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Knicks fans, this is just the start of wild, intense playoff rollercoaster ride

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Be at the ready. Be prepared. Make sure you hydrate before these games, no matter how many of them are to come in the weeks and months ahead. Make sure you maybe have a shot glass or two of Maalox at the ready. The Knicks won the game 111-104, but you needed to stare at the score at the end to make sure it was real, right?

This is what it’s going to be like. This is how it’s going to go. You’ll live. You’ll die. You’ll toss throw pillows at the television. You’ll come close to hitting your head on the basement ceiling, if it’s low enough. The Knicks were dead. Then they were rolling. Then they were dead again.

Then: here they came, one last time. Joel Embiid had done a wonderful Willis Reed imitation across the second half, mostly serving as a decoy and doing it well enough to drag his 76ers back from the brink. It was 91-90, Knicks, and the 19,812 inside Madison Square Garden who’d filled the old gym with a vintage roar for two hours solid had quieted.

Josh Hart celebrates after hitting a big 3-pointer during the Knicks’ 111-104 Game 1 win over the 76ers. Charles Wenzelberg / New York Post
Jalen Brunson wasn’t at the forefront of the win but still contributed. Charles Wenzelberg / New York Post

Then Josh Hart hit a 3.

Later, he’d hit another.

Later still: another.

Josh Hart? Hart’s a grinder. He’s a hustler. He’s a double-double dynamo. He isn’t Steph Curry. Is he the Knicks’ fifth-most-preferable option from 3? Their sixth? Didn’t matter. This night he wanted the shots. He took the shots. The Knicks needed someone to make plays, to make those shots, to deliver them a 1-0 lead in this best-of-seven.

“He was a monster today,” Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said.

“He stepped up big-time today,” Jalen Brunson said of his buddy, Hart.

Miles McBride slams home two of his 21 points in the Knicks’ win. Charles Wenzelberg / New York Post

He did. He had to. Deuce McBride stepped up too, because he had to, and so he poured in 16 first-half points on the way to 21 and an astonishing plus-37 rating. Mitch Robinson did, because he had to, and he took advantage of the clearly hobbled Embiid, eight points and 12 rebounds and four blocks, his own plus-20 for the game.

The Knicks did all this despite Brunson struggling through one of his worst games as a Knick, missing 18 of 26 shots and five of six 3s, turning the ball over five times, looking a step slow on both ends of the floor. It’s not often the Knicks are going to overcome a minus-three out of him. They did this time. They won’t want to make a habit of it.

“It’s a 48-minute game,” Thibodeau said. “We started the game slowly but it all changed slowly when the bench came in.”

Funny, too. For weeks Knicks fans fretted about the bench, about how leads would vanish quickly whenever Brunson came out of the game. Saturday, it was the exact opposite. Part of that was the Knicks seizing on Embiid’s time on the bench; they outscored the Sixers by 21 points when Embiid wasn’t in the game.

Mitchell Robinson plays tight defense on Joel Embiid during the Knicks’ win. Charles Wenzelberg / New York Post

McBride was a huge part of that, appropriating his first real playoff opportunity, draining five out of seven from deep. So was Bojan Bogdanovic, who was huge early in the second half when the Knicks fought back from a quick 32-19 hole.

“You have to be ready for your moment,” said Bogdanovic, 13 points and seven rebounds in 25 top-drawer minutes. “You never know when it’s going to come.”

The Sixers came into the game on a nine-game winning streak, came in off an emotional 105-104 win over the Heat in the play-in game, came in feeding Embiid on almost every possession. Embiid had 15 first-quarter points and, to most everyone inside the Garden peeking through hands covering their eyes in fright, he looked healthy as a horse.

Then he was on the ground after dunking his own heave off the glass, and you could see that fear transfer from the Garden denizens to Embiid’s own eyes (and as an aside to fans who cheered when he fell: do better; we’re better than that around here). He staggered off the court. The Knicks took a 12-point halftime lead.

Bojan Bogdanovic celebrates after hitting a shot during the Knicks’ victory. Charles Wenzelberg / New York Post

But Embiid came back. He played 19 second-half minutes on one leg, with no lift. He made zero fourth-quarter field goals. But he willed and Willis-ed his teammates, especially Kyle Lowry, who scored 12 straight points and brought the 76ers all the way back, and brought the Knicks to the precipice of crisis.

“We can’t wait til we’re down 10 to start playing,” Hart said after slapping his 22-point, 13-rebound game-saver into the books. “We’re resilient. I guess we just like making it tough on ourselves.”

They avoided the crisis. They survived. And so did you. Maybe you’ll go through it all over again with the Rangers on Sunday. Maybe by Monday you’ll be able to go through all of this again: the highs, the lows, the angst, the exultation. This is what it’s going to be like. This is how it’s going to go.


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