As Miles McBride was holding court with the media following what Tom Thibodeau described as “probably his best game as a pro,” Josh Hart walked by holding a bottle of wine and tossed additional compliments at his emerging Knicks teammate.
“Obviously he was the man tonight. Print that,” Hart told reporters after the Knicks’ 123-107 win in Portland.
Filling in again on the second unit with starting point guard Jalen Brunson still sidelined with a bruised left foot, McBride went off for a career-high 18 points in 25 minutes off the bench, including 4 of 5 from 3-point range, as the Knicks salvaged a 2-2 western swing to reclaim the No. 5 playoff position in the Eastern Conference.
“Just continuing to trust it,” McBride said after the game. “I think we’re moving the ball a little better and I’m getting in a better rhythm. I think that’s a big part of it. And just continuing to put in work.”
“But I feel like no matter what — if shots aren’t falling — I still want to be a spark defensively, and come in and, again, get out in transition, get easy baskets that way and give the team a lift.”
The second-year guard acknowledged that he knew he “needed to step up” in the absence of Brunson, who has missed five of the past six games entering Saturday’s home matchup against the Nuggets.
The 22-year-old McBride likely will be dropped from the rotation once Brunson returns and Immanuel Quickley goes back to his sixth-man role.
He similarly was demoted when Hart first joined the team in a deadline deal with the Blazers last month, but he’s excelled at both ends of the floor during his recent stretch of regular playing time.
McBride also has now hit 14 of 28 3-point attempts since the start of February.
“Deuce was amazing [Tuesday night],” said Hart, who also contributed his customary smorgasbord game with 16 points, nine rebounds and eight assists. “It shows his work. Because it’s a long season, an up-and-down season. There’s times when you’re gonna play well, you don’t play good, or you don’t play at all.”
“He was going through that, [but] he’s been giving us good minutes on this road trip. [Tuesday’s game] was an example of how hard he’s been working and how he’s still locked in. We’re just happy for him.”
Quickley, who led the Knicks with 26 points, said McBride’s teammates were trying to feed him late in the game to get him his first career 20-point game.
“Absolutely. I think Miles has always been known for his defense, but his offense was terrific today,” Quickley said. “Offensively, it’s not always about making shots, but he made shots today, so that was great for him.”
“I wanted him to get that 20-ball. But he was just great. Defensively, he’s always gonna be great. He’s always gonna give 100 percent. But offensively, he was making shots, which took him and us to another level.”
Thibodeau also praised McBride for deflecting a pass and hustling back on defense for a first-half rejection on Anfernee Simons, saying “when you see that type of effort, that does nothing but unite and inspire the team. That was a winning play. I think Julius [Randle] had one that was very similar with the verticality. Those things are huge and they add up.”
“That block was crazy. Got all of us off the bench,” Quickley added of McBride’s rejection. “Those are the plays we need. We need guys to make those extra-effort plays, help us get stops, just bring the energy of the team up.
“Obviously, the block will show up on the stat sheet but what it does to the team morale won’t show up. We need that.”
McBride’s teammates also teased him for going in for a breakaway dunk with 2022 Slam Dunk champion Obi Toppin right next to him in transition.
“I didn’t hear him. He’s got to speak up a little bit,” McBride joked.
“If he didn’t dunk that, I would have been really [mad],” Toppin said.
“Because he dunked it and he hung on the rim like that, I accepted it. I didn’t need that pass.”
“He deserved it. He’s worked really hard, opportunity showed itself and he performed.”
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