Fearless Josh Hart is perfectly built for the Knicks, under the New York spotlight

Josh Hart, the personality and the player, was made for Broadway.

He likes to expand, and there’s more room to maneuver in the bigger Apple.

“Portland was cool, New Orleans was cool,” said Hart, who played in both of those small markets before joining the Knicks. “But it was a little too compact for my liking.”

Josh Hart celebrates during the Knicks’ Game 6 victory against the 76ers on May 2, 2024. Charles Wenzelberg/New York Post

As the Knicks begin the Eastern Conference semifinals against their old rivals Pacers on Monday, Hart has become the team’s champion, its glue man, its spokesperson, its fan favorite and even its ace at 3 points in the first round.

There’s never a spotlight Hart won’t step into.

Just ask Hart’s former coach Stan Van Gundy, who guided the forward for one season with the Pelicans.

“I think what everyone who coached him and played with him would say is you knew he would never be afraid of the moment,” said Van Gundy, who will call the Pacers’ first game- Knicks as TNT analyst, at The Post. “There are guys who don’t want to be involved in the biggest moments and the biggest games. Josh would never have been afraid of that.

“In fact, I think he lived for it. Josh was always great when you played against the best teams, when he played against the best players. You never had to worry about him. He’s such a competitor. Where your concerns were with Josh when you were playing against a not-so-good team, or injured guys, or leading 18 with nine or 10 minutes to play, there would be mental lapses and things like that. But throw this guy into the biggest games against the biggest teams.

Hart’s competitiveness is what Van Gundy emphasized to Thibodeau when the Knicks coach asked for a reference before the 2023 trade deadline.

Josh Hart (right) talks with Tom Thibodeau during the Knicks’ Game 6 victory against the 76ers on May 2, 2024. Charles Wenzelberg/New York Post

Leon Rose then traded a very non-Thibs player (Cam Reddish) for a classic Thibs player (Hart).

“I think they knew they wanted it anyway. It was just me kind of confirming that Tom would like it,” Van Gundy said.

Hart’s response on Sunday?

“Then ask Stan why he didn’t do a pick-and-roll for me.”

Follow The Post’s coverage of the Knicks in the NBA playoffs

Ribs aside, Van Gundy was right.

With injuries to Julius Randle and OG Anunoby midway through the regular season, Hart took a Thibodeau opportunity by the throat and somehow rammed it into more life.

He had six triple-doubles during a three-month period beginning in January, which followed six NBA seasons without a triple-double.

Josh Hart shoots at Knicks practice on May 5, 2024. Robert Sabo for the NY Post

In the first round against the Sixers, the 29-year-old led the Knicks in minutes and rebounds.

He finished second in scoring and made the clutch three that had the Sixers reeling against the ropes in Game 6 of elimination — all while podcasting, serving as a quote machine during press briefings and landing another sponsorship deal, this time with Mike and Ike’s candy.

He went from being a role player in his previous three stops (he played his first two seasons with the Lakers) to filling up New York’s scoring.

“Josh would never have been a guy who was afraid,” Van Gundy said. “But to do what he did? If anyone else saw it, they’re a genius, but it’s more likely they’re lying to themselves.

Donte DiVincenzo acknowledged that attention is at least part of Hart’s motivation.

“That’s what I love and hate about him, that’s exactly who he is,” the Knicks guard laughed. “And the thing about Josh is you know when that big moment comes, he’s going to step up and he’s going to deliver.

Josh Hart is perfectly built for the New York spotlight. Robert Sabo for the NY Post

“Because of what comes next.” He lives for it and we all love to enjoy it and see him celebrate.

There’s even more attention in the Eastern Conference semifinals, where Hart struggled last season in a loss to the Heat, but in a much smaller role.

Now he rarely leaves court.

Josh Hart scores a go-ahead 3-pointer in the Knicks’ Game 6 win over the 76ers on May 2, 2024. Charles Wenzelberg/New York Post

Against the Pacers, Hart is the betting favorite to lead the series in minutes and rebounds.

On defense, he’ll be both nowhere and everywhere consistently – likely guarding Pascal Siakam and Tyrese Haliburton without being the primary defender for either.

This is in Hart’s comfort zone.

“Growing up playing basketball, those are the moments you dream about, those are the moments you prepare for,” Hart said. “These are the moments you want. In those moments or those matches, for me, I like it just because the energy is there, the competitiveness.

“That’s the most important thing to me.”

New York Post

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