Why Donte DiVincenzo, Game 2 hero, is what this New York team is all about

NEW YORK — Donte DiVincenzo’s walk-off interview played on the P.A. system at Madison Square Garden, but, inside the arena, his answers were barely audible. The problem? Thousands of people chanting his last name.

Before Game 2 of the New York Knicks’ first-round series against the Philadelphia 76ers, DiVincenzo was already beloved at MSG, an integral part of the best Knicks team in more than a decade, if not longer. A game-winner in the playoffs, however, is delirium-inducing in a way that a 40-point game against the Detroit Pistons in March could never be. In the concourse, and then outside Penn Station, DI-VIN-CEN-ZO chants continued.

DONTE. DIVINCENZO. pic.twitter.com/gRQ4FYKy0D

— x – KNICKS ON MSG (@KnicksMSGN) April 23, 2024
DiVincenzo did not single-handedly snatch the 104-101 victory away from the Sixers on Monday, but his fingerprints were all over the wild finish. Down five with 35 seconds left, he recovered a loose ball around the foul line, then retreated to the 3-point line, drove to the basket and set up Jalen Brunson for a 3. After a miraculous (or, from Philadelphia’s perspective, devastating and illegitimate) steal, DiVincenzo missed his first attempt at a go-ahead 3 from the wing, then relocated to the top of the key, where, after an offensive rebound and a kickout pass, he cashed the second.

“It felt like shit, I missed the first one, to be completely honest,” DiVincenzo said. “That’s why I was hoping that Isaiah [Hartenstein] got the offensive rebound, just because I knew I was gonna get a second opportunity. We practice that every day — dagger 3s and second-chance 3s — so, once OG [Anunoby] got it, just got my feet set and, you know, live with the results. Trust the work that I put in. And thankfully it went down.”

Last summer, DiVincenzo signed in New York on a four-year, $47 million contract that now looks like an extreme underpay. On his way to becoming a playoff hero, the 27-year-old wing reinvented himself as one of the league’s most prolific and proficient 3-point shooters.

It’s not that DiVincenzo was a poor shooter before — he shot 39.7% from 3-point range in 2022-23 with the Golden State Warriors — but, in his five seasons preceding this one, he’d made at least six 3s in a game only twice (and one of them was in overtime). He did that 12 times in 2023-24, including an 8-for-11 night against the Milwaukee Bucks, one of his former teams; a 9-for-15 night against the Utah Jazz and the aforementioned game against the Pistons, in which he made a franchise-record 11 3s.

No shooter can have that kind of volume on standstill catch-and-shoot 3s. With the Knicks, DiVincenzo has evolved into a movement shooter. They run him off pindowns and dribble hand-offs, and they use him as a secondary playmaker. After Julius Randle went down with a shoulder injury in late January, they needed other sources of offense, and he delivered.

In his last 35 regular-season games, he averaged 21 points in 38.2 minutes. He finished the season with 283 made 3s, another franchise record and the third-highest total in the league. He’s not eligible to win Most Improved Player because of a technicality — a fact he did not learn until after the regular season ended, as he did not think he was going to win anyway — but he otherwise would have been on at least a few ballots.

“He made the improvement and he has the green light,” Knicks wing Josh Hart said. “So when you have the mechanics that he has, the work ethic that he has and then you have that green light to go out there and be aggressive and shoot your shots, that’s a recipe for success.”

“Especially after, I don’t know, after those [first] 50 games, the way he stepped up was huge,” Hartenstein added. “He’s been a focal point for our offense, and I think without him we wouldn’t be where we are right now. I’m really grateful to have him and just happy he made that 3 at the end.”

In a way, it was fitting that DiVincenzo was the one who made it. Two days earlier, he was on the bench for the final 14 minutes and 51 seconds of the game, as coach Tom Thibodeau elected to ride third-year guard Miles “Deuce” McBride’s hot hand. DiVincenzo logged only 24 minutes in the opener and 37 on Monday.

“One thing about this team: No one really cares about who’s doing what, who gets the credit for what or anything,” Brunson explained. “We just want to go out there and win.” Hartenstein said that the frantic final few possessions of Game 2 “summed up our season,” as “a lot of guys came up with gritty plays.”

In contrast to the 76ers, who, through two tight games, have not gotten much scoring from anybody beyond stars Joel Embiid and Tyrese Maxey, New York has had numerous players chip in. Hart scored 19 of his 21 points in the first half on Monday, getting so comfortable with the open 3s that were available that he decided to pull up and nail one in transition. Hartenstein didn’t score in the first half, but had 14 in the second half, including a barrage of floaters.

Asked pregame what he expected from DiVincenzo, Thibodeau said, “His normal: You know, shoot the 3, run the floor, play great defense.” Early on, DiVincenzo hit 3s coming off a handoff and a ball screen.

In the second half, Hartenstein freed him for another 3 and, in transition, DiVincenzo converted a lefty layup over Embiid. He finished with 19 points on 5-for-10 shooting, including 4-for-8 from deep. Postgame, Thibodeau called him a “pro’s pro” and a “great teammate.”

“I think just you never know whose night it’s gonna be with this team,” McBride said. “We have a lot of capable guys that can do a lot of different things, have big nights scoring. But I think it’s just shows the grit, that we’re willing to do anything to win at the end of the day. If that means getting a loose ball, getting a steal, rebound and then a kickout, I mean, we’ll do whatever it takes.”

Standing on the court after the buzzer, DiVincenzo told MSG’s Rebecca Haarlow, “This team has a lot of confidence in each other.” He shouted out Brunson and Hart for forcing the turnover before his missed 3, Hartenstein for getting the rebound and Anunoby for kicking the ball out to him.

“Confidence stays high,” he said, as the DI-VIN-CEN-ZO chant drowned him out. “Listen to this place right now.”

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