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Jalen Brunson returns to propel Knicks past shorthanded Suns 102-83

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Jalen Brunson Knicks
New York Knicks guard Jalen Brunson (11) shoots against the Phoenix Suns during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Monday, Jan. 2, 2023, in New York. (AP Photo/Jessie Alcheh)

After missing the last three games with a sore hip, Jalen Brunson returned for the Knicks on Monday afternoon, helping catapult the team to a 102-83 win over the Phoenix Suns

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Although the Suns came into the game at 20-17 and as the 7th seed in the Western Conference, they were without their top scorer Devin Booker, who is out for a month with a groin strain. With the Knicks also missing Obi Toppin and RJ Barrett, it was a battle of the walking wounded in New York.

But with Booker out, it was a rare instance where New York had more consistent shot-makers than their opponent. 

While Deandre Ayton and Chris Paul are both strong NBA players, they struggled to get their own offense on Monday, combining for 23 points on 10-of-24 from the field. Paul only had two assists and Ayton turned the ball over three times. As a result, Paul ended the game with a plus/minus of -38, while Ayton registered a -24. 

On the other hand, MVP chants rained down from the Madison Square Garden crowd as Julius Randle put together another tremendous performance. 

The power forward finished with 28 points, 16 rebounds, six assists, and just one turnover. His shot wasn’t falling for much of the game, shooting just 4-of-12 from beyond the arc, but he bullied Phoenix inside and was able to knock down 10-of-12 from the free throw line. 

Jalen Brunson also contributed 24 points on 8-of-18 from the field, while adding six assists and four rebounds. 

However, Brunson was not eased back in by head coach Tom Thibodeau, even with a big lead, which was a questionable decision. Brunson injured his ankle a couple of weeks ago and was in his first game back from a hip injury but still played 39 minutes in a game New York was up by over 20 for almost the entire second half. 

In fact, despite that huge lead, Thibodeau basically stuck to his nine-man rotation, playing Ryan Arcidiacano and Svi Mykhailiuk one minute each at the end of the game. Cam Reddish didn’t see the court at all. 

Considering the Knicks are already short-handed and have faded out at the end of games as their core rotation players play 35+ minutes on a nightly basis, the decision by Thibodeau was certainly an odd one. Perhaps he wanted the team to keep its offensive rhythm after recently breaking a five-game losing streak. 

Whatever the case, each Knicks starter played at least 35 minutes on Monday with Mitchell Robinson double-doubling with 10 points and rebounds and Immanuel Quickley chipping in 15 points, five rebounds, and three assists as he continues to fill in for Barrett. Evan Fournier also remained in the rotation with Brunson back, adding five points and five rebounds in 14 minutes off of the bench. 

New York returns to action on Wednesday with a rematch against the San Antonio Spurs who beat the Knicks in Texas 122-115 on Thursday night. A win would be crucial as the Knicks face Toronto, Milwaukee, and Indiana in the next stretch and currently trail Indiana by half a game for the 6th spot in the Eastern Conference. 

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Immanuel Quickley New York Knicks
New York Knicks guard Immanuel Quickley (5) reacts after scoring a 3-point basket during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Phoenix Suns, Monday, Jan. 2, 2023, in New York. (AP Photo/Jessie Alcheh)