Jalen Brunson was everything for the New York Knicks on Wednesday night, scoring 38 points to will his team to a 112-103 victory over the Miami Heat and keep New York’s season alive.
The New York point guard led all scorers while also totaling nine rebounds and seven assists. He shot 12-of-22 from the field and 4-of-10 from three while never leaving the floor to ensure the series made it back to Miami.
“Whatever it takes,” said Brunson after the game when asked about playing all 48 minutes. “I was just trying to do everything I could to win. We did that, and now it’s on to Game 6.”
“What can you say about the guy?” responded Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau when asked about Brunson after the game. “He’s incredible. He’s an all-around player, a great leader, great toughness, mental toughness, physical toughness, the ability to think on his feet, the ability to lead, the ability to connect with people and bring the best out of people. That’s what makes him special.”
However, despite Brunson’s efforts, the Knicks looked primed to blow a 19-point third-quarter lead.
Miami had cut the deficit to just 10 by the time the fourth quarter started and then got it down as low as two points with under 2:30 to play. However, this time it was the Knicks who responded.
Isaiah Hartenstein followed up an RJ Barrett miss with a putback dunk and then on the ensuing defensive possession Quentin Grimes, who had just been plastered on a screen by Bam Adebayo, recovered and stole the ball from Jimmy Butler. A few players later, Grimes battled Butler for an offensive rebound, fighting the Heat star to the floor to get a jump ball.
“You need those hustle plays,” said Thibodeau. “He’s gonna give maximum effort on every play, and we need our whole team to do that.”
That effort was indicative of the physicality and heart that Grimes gave the Knicks all night long. The shooting guard missed Games 4 and 5 of the Cavaliers’ series with a shoulder injury. He was able to play just 10 minutes in Game 1 of this series, but tonight he was on the court for every single minute and spent the entire game guarding Butler.
The Heat star had 19 points on 5-of-12 shooting for his worst effort of the series.
“Initially we were planning to have both Jalen and Quentin come out,” admitted Thibodeau after the game. “But the way the first quarter went [with fouls], I knew we couldn’t do that. But [Quentin] is a two-way player; he’s a hustle player. Jimmy’s gonna make you work, and you’ve gotta make him work and I think [Quentin] did as good a job as you can do.”
Despite coming away with the victory, the Knicks continued to make things harder on themselves. They turned the ball over 18 times and shot just 29-40 (72.5%) from the free-throw line. With the Knicks up just six with a little over a minute to play, New York called a timeout but still managed to get a five-second violation on the inbounds, giving the ball back to Miami.
It was the same kind of sloppiness that has epitomized much of this series for New York.
They started the game with it as well, giving up a wide-open layup on the first play of the game when Julius Randle got lost after a Kevin Love screen. The defensive lapses continued, the fouls piled up, and the Knicks scored just 14 points on offense in one of the worst quarters of basketball they had played for much of the season.
With the crowd at Madison Square Garden already starting to let some boos trickle in, Knicks head coach Thibodeau started the second quarter with Obi Toppin in for Randle and left Hartenstein in for Robinson. The Knicks responded with an 18-2 run. They would outscore Miami 27-15 before Randle came back in with 3:23 to go in the second quarter.
That run was thanks in large part to Brunson, who was the engine that drove New York all night long. He scored 10 points during that stretch, while RJ Barrett chipped in another 10 of his own to give the Knicks a 41-39 lead with their All-NBA player on the bench.
To his credit, Randle seemed a bit more energized in his second stint on the court. He closed out with more energy on defense, fought under the boards, and finished with seven of the Knicks’ last nine points of the half as they took a 50-47 lead into the break.
Randle would finish the game with 24 points, five rebounds, and five assists, but he was a non-factor in the fourth quarter. The power forward didn’t even attempt a shot until he stole the ball from Kyle Lowry and laid it up with 17 seconds left to go in the game.
Yet, despite Randle’s inconsistency, the Knicks made the most of their opportunities to put the game away. Tjey scored 29 points off of Miami’s turnovers, while Miami scored just five points off turnovers despite New York giving away the ball seven more times.
The Knicks also out-rebounded Miami 50-34 and pulled in four more offensive rebounds after losing that battle in Game 4. Perhaps equally as important, New York also had 23 assists tonight even though they came into the game averaging 18.9 assists per game in the playoffs, the lowest of any of the remaining teams.
Grimes chipped in five assists to go along with four rebounds, two steals, and eight points. RJ Barrett also added 26 points, seven rebounds, and two assists as the only Knicks player other than Randle and Brunson to score in double figures.
The series now heads back to Miami for Game 6 on Friday night at a time to be determined. With the Knicks trailing 3-2 and going on the road, the challenge to keep their season alive will be even greater.
“We have a bunch of gym rats,” said Thibodeau after the game. “When you have guys like that, you know they’re ready.”
They’ll have to be, but if they squeeze out one more win, they’ll force a Game 7 in front of what will likely be an electric Madison Square Garden crowd.
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