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Knicks' Isaiah Hartenstein joins elite company with 'huge' rebounding performance in Game 5

Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau consistently preaches the importance of defense, rebounding and limiting turnovers as the keys to winning any game.

On Tuesday, the Knicks checked off the rebounding box big time in their 121-91 over the Pacers in Game 5 thanks to the team’s ability to clean up the glass, led by Isaiah Hartenstein. The 26-year-old center pulled down 17 boards, 12 of the offensive variety.

“You gotta give Zay a tremendous amount of credit….that’s something we need him to do,” Josh Hart said after the game. “When they blitz Jalen [Brunson], they’re in scramble mode and that’s when they have a small on him or Donte has no one guarding him…. Great effort and we need to keep that up.”

In the Knicks’ Game 4 loss, the team grabbed just 43 rebounds -- 16 offensive -- and Hartenstein could only get five total boards with zero offensive rebounds. That’s very unlike the five-year veteran who averaged eight rebounds per game during the regular season.

“I just wanted to be more physical,” Hartenstein said of his play. “The games in Indiana I wasn’t playing like myself I was letting them play like how I play. That was the biggest thing I wanted to do, be physical and play my game.”

On Tuesday, the rebound battle was a totally different story. The Knicks outrebounded the Pacers 66 to 38, which led to second-chance opportunities. Those extra possessions allowed New York to take 101 shots to Indiana’s 72.

“What they did in Indiana, no one was proud of,” Hartenstein said of the difference between Game 4 and 5. “We were in the mud. Still, that can’t happen. We came together. We wanted to be more physical and play Knicks basketball. We got back to that today.”

“Isaiah was phenomenal,” Thibodeau said. “It was a great team effort but Isaiah in particular, those extra possessions were huge for us.”

In addition to Hartenstein’s 17 rebounds, Hart grabbed 11 while Precious Achiuwa and Alec Burks picked up five rebounds apiece off the bench. All in all, a dominant effort from the Knicks, but Hartenstein’s performance on Tuesday was something that hadn’t been seen in 30 years.

The center became the ninth player in NBA history to have 12 offensive rebounds in a playoff game. He's also the first Knick to do it since Charles Oakley did it in 1994 (h/t The Athletic’s Fred Katz)

When the stat was brought up to him after the game, Hartenstein was honored.

“It means a lot. At the end of the day, that was how I was coming into the game. I wanted to be more physical, I wanted to get back to how I was rebounding before,” he said. “Being in the same group as a guy like Charles Oakley is special.”

Hartenstein’s 17 rebounds were more than he had in Games 3 and 4 combined. If the Knicks look to get past the Pacers in Indiana in Game 6, they’ll need their starting center to be more the beast on the boards like he was on Tuesday.