Knicks picking up slack for Jalen Brunson just another part of team’s identity

We’ve been there, all of us. If you’ve logged any time in a gym, on a playground, there are days when you show up and you can’t make a thing. Wide open jumpers. Layups. Drives. Sometimes they go halfway down and spin out. Sometimes it’s uglier than that. That’s where Jalen Brunson was Saturday afternoon at Madison Square Garden. 

Nothing would fall. Nothing would drop. Brunson is so good, has been so good, been so consistent, it’s almost shocking to watch the basketball betray him that way. He took 24 shots against the Nets. He missed 17 of them. 

There were already a number of things conspiring against the Knicks on Saturday. They were back home after a four-game swing out west, and the first game home after a trip like that always tends to be sleepy. It was a one o’clock tip, always a recipe for adventure. The opponent was the Nets, bloodied and carrying a five-game losing streak but that most dangerous kind of opponent given the circumstances: one with nothing to lose. 

And Brunson couldn’t buy a shot. 

Jalen Brunson struggled in the Knicks’ win over the Nets. Robert Sabo for NY Post

The Knicks won anyway. They won 105-93. They went on a 22-4 run to start the fourth quarter, frustrated the Nets into missing 11 straight shots at one point. Deuce McBride pitched a complete game, going the full 48, pouring in 26, including six 3s. Donte DiVincenzo had 31. If the full house of 19,812 had some troubling moments early as the Nets enjoyed playing with the house’s money, they took great delight at the end. 

Because it was exactly what you wanted to see. The Knicks had had a terrific 3-1 trip, and if they arrived home a half game behind the Magic for the four seed they had also put some distance between themselves and the play-in cut line. Every game matters now, especially the ones against teams like the Nets who are playing out the string. 

What’s happening on and off the Garden court

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“They’re a hungry team, and we know you’ve got to play four quarters to beat them,” DiVincenzo said. “I’m happy we did. And I’m happy we came out with the win.” 

It’s especially encouraging on a day when Brunson turned in a rare off day. Brunson is usually a given. When he is, the Knicks have proven they can beat anyone. When he’s off, the Knicks usually are too. This time they picked him up. This time there were any number of folks willing to step up and carry the load. It’s a good thing to see. In the new-look NBA post All-Star Game, Brunson doesn’t get as many calls as he used to. In the playoffs, teams will try to take him away. 

When they do, the Knicks have to find a way to make them pay. 

Donte DiVincenzo of the New York Knicks is greeted by Miles McBride. Robert Sabo for NY Post

Saturday the Nets paid. 

“We have to lock in,” DiVincenzo said. “You look at the schedule you have to win the games you’re supposed to win.” 

There’s a bunch of those names at hand. The Nets are 26-45. Upcoming are games again the Pistons (12-58) Monday, the Raptors (23-47) Wednesday and the Spurs (15-55) Friday. For all the potholes the Knicks have stepped in, they are now tied for the four seed. They are now one game behind the Cavs for the three, and own the tiebreaker with them. They can still craft an ideal path for themselves. 

And it feels like the guys supporting Brunson are all playing at a new level. Starting with McBride, whose last three games have lessened the sting of OG Anunoby’s elbow flaring up again. 

“I feel great,” McBride said after joining Hart this week as Knicks who have gone all 48. “We have a lot of fight and we have any number of guys that can get the job done any given night.” 

Deuce McBride had a big day for the Knicks in the victory. Robert Sabo for NY Post

It’s the kind of mantra that will be essential to maximizing whatever the regular season has in store for them across the final dozen games, even more so once the playoffs begin. There’s going to come a night when someone besides Brunson is going to have to step up. 

“You have to find a way to win,” Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said “That’s what we did.” 

It’s what they’ve done all year. It’s what they rely on, it’s how they have put themselves back in position to make a run at the three seed, and all that lies beyond. Have to find a way. 

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