Magic Johnson Gets 100% Real on Knicks ‘Unsung Hero’ in Game 5 Win vs. Pacers

Magic Johnson Gets 100% Real on Knicks ‘Unsung Hero’ in Game 5 Win vs. Pacers

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By Jedd Pagaduan | MSN

The New York Knicks are currently down four of their most trusted rotation players; OG Anunoby and Mitchell Robinson sustained lower-body injuries during their second-round series against the Indiana Pacers in the 2024 NBA playoffs, forcing them to join Julius Randle and Bojan Bogdanovic, both of whom suffered season-ending injuries earlier on. Thus, a few analysts thought that the Knicks weren’t long for the playoff world. But in Game 5, the Knicks snatched the momentum back from the Pacers’ grasp as they took a 3-2 series lead by virtue of a dominant 121-89 victory.

On Tuesday night, it was Jalen Brunson who dominated the headlines, and deservedly so. He put up 44 points as he rendered the Pacers’ defense helpless yet again. In so doing, he tallied his sixth 40-point game of this year’s playoffs, which is tied for the third most in a single postseason run — proving his standing as one of the league’s top 10 players.

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Nonetheless, one man alone cannot lead a team to victory. Brunson had plenty of help from his Knicks teammates who have managed to stay unscathed by the injury bug, and Los Angeles Lakers legend Magic Johnson wanted to give one unsung hero in particular his due flowers for the way he imposed his will on the game.

“Tonight’s unsung hero was Isaiah Hartenstein. His 12 offensive rebounds, 17 in total, were the key to the victory,” Johnson wrote on his official Twitter (X) account.

Indeed, Isaiah Hartenstein continues his run of stellar play; he is making mincemeat of the Pacers’ frontcourt, and on Tuesday night, he was as unstoppable as ever on the offensive glass. Hartenstein has stepped up for the Knicks all season long amid Mitchell Robinson’s injury woes, and his stock continues to rise — and at the best possible time as well.

The rise of Hartenstein has been an underrated subplot of how the Knicks have remained ultra competitive despite injuries to four key rotation players. Brunson, Josh Hart, and Donte DiVincenzo, the Villanova trio, have garnered most of the attention, but it’s hard to envision the Knicks getting this far without Hartenstein’s contributions.

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Isaiah Hartenstein has emerged as a long-term keeper for the Knicks

When the Knicks signed Isaiah Hartenstein in 2022, they were betting that the improvements he showed for the Los Angeles Clippers during the 2021-22 season was going to be sustainable. Alas, it didn’t seem like Hartenstein earned the trust of head coach Tom Thibodeau from the get-go. Hartenstein, during the first few months of his stint in New York, was fighting for minutes against Jericho Sims behind Mitchell Robinson.

Nonetheless, quality always tends to shine through regardless of circumstance. The Knicks realized that Hartenstein’s defensive versatility, relentlessness on the glass, and feel for the game made him deserving of a ton of playing time. Now, he has truly set himself apart, and it’s hard to envision the Knicks letting him leave after a breakout 2024 postseason.

Hartenstein is a fighter who relents no inch against the opposition, and he’s no mere pushover, as seen in Game 5 when he came to Donte DiVincenzo’s aid following a hard screen from Pacers center Isaiah Jackson. The 26-year old big man has endeared himself to Thibodeau fully, and he’s a perfect fit at center for the Knicks’ identity of grit, hustle, and mental fortitude.

It’ll be interesting to see how big of a contract Hartenstein will be signing come July, as he’ll be entering free agency after a mostly fruitful two years with the Knicks. ESPN’s Bobby Marks projected Hartenstein’s next contract to come at $13-$14 million annually. That might be a bargain given how playoff-viable the 26-year old center has proven himself to be.

Hartenstein’s journey from struggling backup big to bonafide starter

It took a while before Isaiah Hartenstein established himself as a legitimate NBA rotation player. The 43rd pick of the 2017 NBA Draft, Hartenstein wasn’t very good in his first three years in the league. He bounced around with the Houston Rockets, Denver Nuggets, and Cleveland Cavaliers before latching on with the Clippers in 2021.

The Clippers merely took a flier on Hartenstein, signing him to a training camp deal. His NBA future was hanging in the balance. Hartenstein responded by being perhaps the best backup center in the NBA during that season, as the Clippers played with more energy and oomph on both ends of the court whenever he was on.

Alas, the Clippers decided not to re-sign him in 2022, instead focusing their resources on John Wall. That proved to be a colossal mistake. That paved the way for the Knicks to sign Hartenstein, and now, he’s a keeper for a New York team that has every intention of building a championship contender within the next few seasons.

The post Magic Johnson gets 100% real on Knicks ‘unsung hero’ in Game 5 win vs. Pacers appeared first on ClutchPoints.

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