Jalen Brunson drops franchise-record 47, Knicks outlast 76ers 97-92 to take commanding 3-1 series lead

Jalen Brunson Knicks 76ers Game 4
(AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

The legend of Jalen Brunson continues to grow by immeasurable leaps and bounds and now, he has the New York Knicks on the precipice of a first-round series victory.

The superstar guard broke a litany of records on Sunday afternoon in New York’s 97-92 Game 4 victory at Wells Fargo Center to give the Knicks a commanding 3-1 first-round series lead. Recording 47 points on 18-of-34 shooting with 10 assists, Brunson set a new career playoff high in points, a franchise record for most points in a playoff game, and became the first Knicks payer in postseason history to record a 40-point, 10-assist game.

“We just kept fighting and found a way to win,” Brunson told ESPN after the game. “It was a little ugly, a little scrappy, but we kept staying connected and we found a way.”

Nearly every single point of his was a necessity as the Knicks overturned two separate deficits of 12 and 10. His layup with 55.5 seconds to go gave him 45 on the day while putting New York up six — a just reward for a defense that held the Sixers to just eight points over a 9:36 span and without a field goal over the final 5:05 of the game.

“A lot of fight. we got down early and we just kept battling,” Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau said. “The defense was really good. The rebounding really good, a lot of hustle in the game.”

Precious Achiuwa, the Knicks’ No. 3 option at center, stepped in brilliantly while Isaiah Hartenstein was forced to the bench with foul trouble, recording one point with seven rebounds, and four blocks while providing stellar defense on Philadelphia star Joel Embiid.

While the 76ers’ star recorded 27 points on the night, he was limited to just one point in the fourth quarter with Achiuwa on him.

“Precious came in and gave us great minutes…. that’s been the story of our season,” Thibodeau said. “We need everyone just hustling like crazy and when we do that, good things happen.”

The clampdown of the reigning MVP was all the more impressive considering the Knicks’ starting center, Mitchell Robinson, was ruled out shortly before the start of Game 4 after going through his usual pregame warmups. He aggravated an ankle injury in Game 3 after Embiid controversially grabbed the center’s ankle while he was on his back and Robinson was landing under the basket.  

Precious Achiuwa Knicks Embiid
New York Knicks’ Precious Achiuwa, right, goes up for a shot against Philadelphia 76ers’ Joel Embiid during the first half of Game 4 in an NBA basketball first-round playoff series, Sunday, April 28, 2024, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

The Sixers reeled off a 10-0 run to take a 61-51 lead early in the third quarter while hostilities continued to climb. Josh Hart — limited to just four points but pulled down a massive 17 rebounds — was whistled for an offensive foul for elbowing Kyle Lowry in the face, which was adjudged to be a common foul. Away from the play, though, Embiid sent a forearm shiver Brunson’s way as he tried to cut under the hoop while off the ball.

After Brunson hit a jumper and drew a foul seconds later to end Philadelphia’s run, he confronted Embiid as the two jawed back and forth.

“The way Jalen has responded to the challenge has been huge,” Thibodeau said. “The challenge now is to not feel good about ourselves now. To not change. Enjoy this for the moment tonight and get ready for the next one… We have to get the fourth win.”

New York’s superstar guard brought his side within three with a shifty five-footer through traffic along the left baseline to give him 30 points on the night with 4:47 to go in the third.

“It’s almost like we took ourselves out of rhythm,” 76ers head coach Nick Nurse said. “There were some clunky possessions here or there but that’s the playoffs. Both teams have those.”

At that point, the rest of his team had 30. Embiid’s questionable antics continued late in the quarter, though. He fouled Hart under the basket and while the Knicks’ guard was on the floor, stepped on his ankle and leg twice.

“It’s two hard teams going at it and just finding a way,” Brunson said. “I wouldn’t want it any other way.”

Donte DiVincenzo’s two straight three-pointers headlined a tit-for-tat exchange of threes as the 76ers continued to cling to a single-possession advantage. Philadelphia’s main source of points came from Embiid’s ability to draw fouls and get to the line. In the third quarter alone, he coaxed Hartenstein into five fouls.

With 5.1 seconds to go in third, Brunson hit a 13-foot floating jump shot and drew the foul. With the free throw, he gave the Knicks a 77-76 lead going into the fourth quarter. Following that play, though, Brunson hobbled back to the locker room after he sustained knee-to-knee contact with Lowry. He was not on the floor to start the fourth quarter but returned to the bench roughly two minutes in.

He seemed just fine when he got back on the floor, hitting a 19-foot jumper over Embiid as the shot clock expired with 9:10 to go — his 40th point of the game. It sparked a 6-0 run that gave the Knicks an 86-81 lead that was their largest of the game until late in the fourth.

Brunson willed the Knicks throughout a slow start to keep them within touching distance. He scored the Knicks’ first seven points and 12 of their first 17, but 10 points, six rebounds, and four assists from Embiid helped the 76ers open a 10-point lead, 27-17. While the Knicks were getting their looks, they shot just 33.3% in the opening quarter while going 1-of-7 from beyond the arc.

With Embiid on the bench to start the second quarter, the Knicks outscored Philadelphia 8-2 but lost Bojan Bogdanovic in the process. Just seconds after subbing in, his ankle was rolled on by Nic Batum, who dove into his leg while going for a loose ball. He was ruled out for the remainder of the game at the start of the third quarter.

Even when Embiid returned to the floor with just over four minutes gone in the frame, the Knicks kept chipping away while the Sixers missed 12 straight shots — a floater from Brunson tied it at 29 apiece with 6:45 to go in the half.

A fadeaway from Brunson a minute later, which was his 21st point of the day, gave the Knicks their first lead of the afternoon at 34-32. After the Sixers took a five-point lead, two straight three-pointers from Deuce McBride kept the Knicks in touching distance heading into the half down 49-47. Brunson finished the half with 23.

Game 5 shifts back to Madison Square Garden where the Knicks look to close it out on Tuesday night.

“It takes four to win a series,” Thibodeau said. “And that’s what we need to focus on.”

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