Knicks' trio of Villanova stars help them advance to 2nd round of East playoffs

Updated May. 3, 2024 10:25 a.m. ET

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Josh Hart rattled a box of candy — “Mike and Ike’s, baby!” — to explain where he found the energy boost to hit the winning 3-pointer in Game 6. Hart then turned to his left and raised his right hand, expecting some love from Jalen Brunson.

Brunson left Hart hanging.

“Don’t dap him,” New York Knicks teammate Donte DiVincenzo chimed in.

Brunson joked that, yes, it was movie theater snacks that fueled Hart through the playoffs.


“It’s Mike and Ike’s. It’s popcorn,” Brunson said.

Hart then chucked some of the fruit-flavored candies toward reporters and encouraged them to try the candy. DiVincenzo buried his head in a microphone, unable to keep a straight face on a dais he shared with his two teammates.

Bonded by their desire to win a championship in New York — the Knicks’ 118-115 Game 6 win over the Philadelphia 76ers on Thursday night sent them to the second round — the trio are known more for their championship runs at Villanova.

They’re all doing their part to win a ring in the NBA.

Hall of Fame coach Jay Wright, the former Villanova coach and noted 76ers fan, was surely proud somewhere at the end of Game 6.

Take a look at the final Game 6 statistics: DiVincenzo hit five 3s and scored 23 points in 48 minutes; Brunson had 41 points and 12 assists and was the first NBA player to score 40 or more in three straight games to close out a series since Michael Jordan for Chicago against Cleveland in 1989; Hart hit the go-ahead 3-pointer from the top of the arc with 24.4 seconds left and scored 16 points.

As thick as brothers, right?

“I can’t stand these dudes,” DiVincenzo deadpanned.

After small laughter died down, Hart then patted DiVincenzo on the knee and said they had “great friendship.”

“On a serious note,” DiVincenzo interjected, “I think on the court, you have the ability to bring everybody together, make adjustments, have that open line of communication with nobody taking offense. I think everybody’s goal here is to win. It’s easier when you have two guys you’ve played with (before). You know, sometimes when things get heated, you know it’s coming from the right place.”

The Nova trio — and the rest of the Knicks — have at least one more round ahead of them.

The Knicks are set for an Eastern Conference semifinal matchup with Indiana. The Pacers beat Milwaukee in six games and advanced to the second round for the first time in 10 years. Game 1 is Monday night in New York.

The Knicks are through to the second round in consecutive years for the first time since the postseasons from 1992-2000, and even then, nobody did what Brunson did in this series by scoring 40 points or more in each of the final three games. He became the first Knick to do that since Bernard King 40 years ago.

In a series defined by tight games, Hart hit the clutch shot that made it 114-111 and again had “Let’s go Knicks! Let’s go Knicks!” chants echoing throughout Philly’s home court.

“The fourth quarter was just one big play after the next,” Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said.

The fourth quarter was just one big “Let's go Knicks” roar after the next.

The Sixers’ strategy heading into Game 6 of their Eastern Conference first-round series was to keep Knicks fans out of Wells Fargo Center on Thursday night.

Team owners Josh Harris, David Blitzer and David Adelman and former minority owner Michael Rubin joined forces Wednesday to buy more than 2,000 tickets they handed out to people who serve the Philadelphia community.

It worked for about three quarters. By the end, though, Knicks fans turned South Philly into a little slice of Madison Square Garden.

“We knew it was going to be tough environment,” Hart said. “A little tougher than (Game 4) because it was 2,500 seats that were taken up.”

Just wait until they get back to the real deal at MSG next week.

Brunson hugged team president Leon Rose before he exited through the tunnel to “MVP! MVP!” chants from the fans clad in orange-and-blue that stuck around to the end — ready for one more series ahead.