Isaiah Hartenstein makes one last stop to end Knicks losing streak

These are the minutes – and the moments – reserved for Mitchell Robinson. Donovan Mitchell driving to the basket. The last seconds pass in Madison Square Garden. The Knicks need a stoppage to hold a two-point lead and end a four-game losing streak.

But when Mitchell drove, Isaiah Hartenstein stepped forward under the basket. The backup center knew Mitchell would fire the final shot. He didn’t want to make a mistake. Instead, Hartenstein blocked him, capping off a good night and completing the Knicks’ 105-103 victory.

Hartenstein finished with 23 minutes played Tuesday, his best since playing 10:53 on Nov. 13, and compiled a line that included nine rebounds, four assists and four points. His fourth quarter outing featured a bit of everything – a dunk, a feed for a cutting Miles McBride, another block against Mitchell in the final moments – then came his final contribution, one that sounded like “what I came here for last summer as a free agent.

Isaiah Hartenstein blocks Donovan Mitchell’s tying effort saving a Knicks win.
Corey Sipkins

“I was just trying to help in any way I could, especially with Mitch out – just trying to fulfill his role, just protecting the rim,” Hartenstein said.

Amid what was a rocky start to playing Robinson, Hartenstein gave the Knicks’ quest its biggest boost yet. He had felt a bit slower during the season due to a nagging Achilles problem, finally getting back to “what I am used to”. It wasn’t about learning how to play defense, but more about getting comfortable again “with my body”, he said.

The Knicks’ defense still allowed Cavaliers center Jarrett Allen to score 24 points, repeatedly piercing the core of the defense, but Hartenstein said he felt the team’s defense was better. His moments at the end helped with that.

When Mitchell rolled to Hartenstein, the center thought of Tom Thibodeau. He thought of the Knicks coach forcing the word “vertical” on him – over and over and over. RJ Barrett also repeated it after the game, so Hartenstein thought of Thibodeau’s voice: “Just being vertical no matter what he’s doing,” Hartenstein said.

And what followed, Thibodeau said, was a “tremendous” example.

“Just monster play on his part,” Thibodeau said.

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