News came that the Knicks superstar Jalen Brunson had broken his hand late in game 7 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Pacers; while it was a devastating blow to the orange and blue faithful, it almost gave a calming sense of finality to New York and the season they had just had the pleasure of witnessing.

This team that the city had fallen in love with continued fighting through a postseason riddled with injuries, but eventually when their MVP went down with time winding down for the team to pull off another comeback, it seemed a painfully poetic way for the year to conclude.


The Injury Bug That Kept on Biting

Now, before delving into the plethora of playoff injuries that plagued the Knicks, it is critical to recognize that perhaps not one of them individually equates to one that occurred months earlier in January to a surging Knicks squad when their All-Star power forward Julius Randle went down with a dislocated shoulder.  

Despite going months without Randle, Robinson, and Anunoby, the Knicks secured the second seed in the East with a 50-32 record, their best regular season finish in eleven years. Jalen Brunson transformed from a budding star into a legitimate MVP candidate, having to carry more and more of a load for the banged-up Knicks down the final stretch of the regular season.

And Got Even Worse Come Playoff Time…

It’s no secret that the Knicks were shorthanded down the stretch of this playoff run. And while it doesn’t outright determine whether the Knicks could have possibly found more success if they did not continually catch the injury bag, it’s without a doubt a part of the reason for their premature exit from this year’s playoffs. 

New York’s fallen players came early and often this postseason. In their first road game in the playoffs, game 3 in Philly, Mitchell Robinson’s ankle was reinjured, more than likely due to a series of controversial plays from 76ers center Joel Embiid. In game 4 of their first-round series against Philidelphia, Bojan Bogdanovic, who was already playing through a wrist injury, went down with a foot injury, which he finally succumbed to, as he required surgery, which ended his season. 

Robinson did return after game four for the remainder of the round one series and played in the first game against Indiana, but after that, it was announced he was out again with the same ankle injury and would not be re-evaluated for 6-8 weeks, ending his season. In game 2 against the Pacers, Jalen Brunson sustained a foot injury, which he then came back from at halftime and led the Knicks to a miraculous victory. 

However, the hits just kept on coming as during that same game, OG Anunoby, who was having arguably the game of his postseason career, went down with a non-contact hamstring injury. He would only return for the beginning of game 7, where he gave the Knicks perhaps the most valiant 5 minutes in recent franchise history. Now, while Brunson did recover from his foot injury, he did not look right for the next couple of games, where the Knicks squandered their 2-0 series lead and allowed the series to be tied.

Despite this continued war of attrition, this Knicks team kept fighting. After relinquishing their 2-2 series lead, they put up an incredible performance at home in game 5 without three starters, defeating the Pacers 121-91 to go up 3-2 in the series. However, they failed to put Indiana away on the road, falling 116-103 in game 6, allowing a winner-take-all game 7 to be forced. 


Emptying the Tank

In game 7, one of the most, if not the most, highly anticipated New York sports games in the past 25 years, these Knicks looked exhausted. The tank was emptied. OG Anunoby gave the Knicks five minutes on the court despite barely being able to run. Josh Hart, dealing with a painful abdominal strain, played through the ailment and left it all on the court, as he had done every time.

But even with this magical Knicks squad, injuries, fatigue, and being simply undermanned eventually catch up with a team. The Knicks were behind almost the entire game, and after cutting it to 8 early in the third, they allowed the Pacers to go on another run; and then one final blow came to this team in the form of perhaps the most heartbreaking injury yet. Jalen Brunson, going up to contest a layup from Pacers star Tyrese Haliburton, broke his hand and left the game. After this, the team fought to the very end, but the hope seemed to be almost completely sucked out of the building, as New York eventually fell 130-109. 

The Pacers came into the Garden on a heater, and it lasted almost the entire game. They finished with the best FG% in NBA Playoff history, at an incredible 67.1%. Between that, the Knicks’ foolish and sloppy turnovers, and, of course, the aforementioned injuries, it unfortunately seemed that it was meant to end this way for the Knickerbockers this year.


Next Man Up

The team that lifted up this city made fantasy reality and seems to have restored magic around New York Knicks basketball, which was lost for many years. They eventually had to meet sobering reality at the end of the season. But it seemed fitting. Painfully so, but it truly did seem almost poetic. This Knicks team has transformed and changed through the months that made up the season. Our opening day starting lineup was Jalen Brunson, Quentin Grimes, RJ Barret, Julius Randle, and Mitchell Robinson. By the end of the year, only one of those starters remained in the lineup. 

Robinson went down with a broken ankle in December before working for months to return for the playoffs. In December, Barret and former Knicks sixth-man extraordinaire Immanuel Quickley were traded to Toronto in return for OG Anunoby and Precious Achiuwa. The team then surged to an NBA-best record of 14-2 January before Randle went down. Then, shortly after, Anunoby went down as the injury bug kept biting. Then, in February, the Knicks pulled off a great deadline deal, trading Grimes, Fournier, and others to Detroit for Boganovič and Burks. Randle and Anunoby went through grueling work for months to attempt to return from injury, but in the end, only one of them could. Then, in the bitter end, both of them had to watch from the bench as the season ended. 

In the playoffs, a true war of attrition broke out for the New York Knicks as their lineup shifted and transformed; one mentality persisted: Next man up. It was next man up for these Knicks, day in and day out, until there was simply no next man left. So, fitting that in the final game, with these Knicks desperately clawing and fighting to try and make one more incredible run to save their season, their most valuable player, the reason they made it this far, fell. The tank was emptied, and almost every single player was dealing with some sort of injury, but they played on and fought to the very end. This team mentally and physically exhausted themselves and, in the end, came up short in a painfully poetically fitting ending.


This Team Has Captured the Hearts of New York

A rarity in this century of Knicks basketball, but in New York now, at the end of this season, there is nothing fans will hang their heads about. It was a magical season, and there’s so much more to come from this squad. Anunoby and Hartenstein are free agents this offseason, so with that, among other decisions that will need to be made, the front office will have a busy and critical offseason. But there’s no doubt that the future is bright, brighter than it has been in quite a while. 

It’s often difficult to get a large group of people to agree on something, especially an entire city. But our city of New York seems to all agree that we’ve fallen in love with this New York Knicks team. You can see it, by the way, there were deafening chants of support for the team with seconds left in their blowout defeat in game 7, in the way every player checking out or leaving the game after was met with thunderous applause.


You can tell by the way Orange and Blue gear has flooded the streets of the city, and you can tell by the buzz in the air, the energy through all five boroughs; New York basketball is back.

PHOTO: Sarah Stier/Getty Images

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