It’s Villanova night at The Garden Wednesday. Mikal Bridges is becoming — if he already isn’t — the face of the franchise in Brooklyn and Josh Hart and Jalen Brunson have delivered the goods for the Knicks. All three were on the Wildcats’ national championship team in 2016 and Bridges and Brunson earned a repeat two years later.
Now, of course, they are going to be on opposite sides as the Nets try to win the season series and gain an advantage in playoff seeding over the Knicks.
As Bridges told Steve Serby of the Post, that Philly connection is never far away.
“Me and Josh weren’t friends in the beginning, which makes it bittersweet now. I was real handsy on defense, and you’ll get frustrated,” said Bridges. “Coming in as a freshman, not really know who I am, honestly, then we got to know each other and became really close.”
Same with Brunson, who he described as “the goofiest person I know.”
So far in their New York rivalry, the Knick duo has the edge, beating the Nets in a blowout shortly after the trades that brought Bridges to the Nets and Hart to the Knicks. Brunson scored 40 and Hart 27 in that 124-106 loss for Brooklyn, a game where Bridges scored only seven points, by far his lowest output in the six games he’s played for the Nets.
“Wasn’t fun ’cause we lost, and they whipped our ass a little bit. Wasn’t too fun,” he said.
Despite that loss, following a 10-game intracity winning streak by Brooklyn, Bridges is having a great start as a Net, averaging 23.8 points with shooting splits of 53/47/90 in those six games. And of course there’s his defense which other than February 13 in the Garden has been stellar.
Asked how he’d describe his style of play, Bridges replied, “Active … fun … and sneaky.”
As a follow-up, Serby asked how the offensive Mikal Bridges would do against the defensive Mikal Bridges.
“I think it would kind of tough, ’cause he’s kind of crafty. The biggest thing I would try and make the refs play the game, try to get a foul call,” he joked.
“Getting steals as a kid was always fun, as I got older, be on the court in college to guard was a biggest thing for me to be out there, and I just fell in love with making it tough on guys to score on me.”
Now, he’s being asked to be the first option on offense for Brooklyn, the go-to guy who gets the ball the same way Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving were before the deadline. He told Serby he is ready for the role.
“Yes, for sure. I think I can, 100 percent. … Being who I am every day, just working hard and having high spirits. I know kind of what it takes to win, and just try to bring that here.”
Indeed. In addition to his two NCAA championships and one Big East title, he and the Suns got to the NBA Finals in 2021, losing to the Bucks. As he told Serby, he doesn’t appreciate being underappreciated.
Asked what is the biggest adversity or obstacle he had to overcome, Bridges goes back to his first year at Villanova,
“Redshirt my freshman year was tough. Sitting out, not playing basketball, without being hurt or anything, that was pretty tough on me,” he told the Post writer.
And the most unfair criticism?
“I think coming out of college just not be able to get better at basketball, ’cause maybe they thought I was too old. The ceiling and everything, coming out being drafted, being 21 other than 18- and 19-year olds. It really don’t bother me, but that’s just something that kind of was odd.”
He adds that he keeps improving, keeps setting new standards, telling Serby he’s improved ballhandling and playmaking since last season. His long-term goals? Playing 20 years in the NBA, winning a title but also getting better as a person.
“Just continue to be a winner,” he said. “But just be a better person. Just known as me being a really good human I care the most about.”
He also touched on his durability, having played 371 straight NBA games as well as every game in his collegiate career. Was there a game where he thought he’d have to give up his ironman reputation, his worse injury?
“Grade 2, sprained my elbow, my shooting arm when I was a rookie,” he said, adding, “I didn’t tell nobody ’cause I knew they would want me to sit down.
So far, his Brooklyn experience has been going good, he told Serby, reiterating how much he appreciates the Barclays Center crowd.
“The fans are real dope, I love ’em in there already.”
And tonight, which of his former teammates would he prefer guarding?
“Josh. ’Cause Jalen has too much of a green light.”
- Mikal Bridges on Nets, Jalen Brunson, Josh Hart and all things Villanova - Steve Serby - New York Post