NEW YORK (AP) — Jalen Brunson believed the New York Knicks were headed in the right direction when the calendar turned to 2024.
He didn’t realize they would start it with one of the best months in franchise history.
Brunson had 29 points and nine assists, Donte DiVincenzo made a career-high nine 3-pointers and the Knicks beat the Utah Jazz 118-103 on Tuesday night for their eighth straight victory.
DiVincenzo scored 33 to lead the Knicks, who finished 14-2 in January. That was their most wins in a month since going 14-0 in March 1994 and just one shy of their most ever, when they were 15-3 in December 1968.
“I’d be lying if I said I saw this coming, but I think one thing I do know is that we’re going to continue to get better every single day and that’s what we’ve been able to do,” Brunson said.
With starting forwards Julius Randle and OG Anunoby sidelined for the second straight night, Precious Achiuwa started and matched a season high with 18 points. Josh Hart finished with 10 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists for his first career triple-double — just the 10th player in NBA history to do it by finishing exactly 10-10-10 — and Isaiah Hartenstein had 14 points and 12 boards.
Collin Sexton scored 22 points for the Jazz, who lost in New York for the second straight night to finish their road trip at 2-4. They were more competitive in this one than in their 147-114 loss on Monday in Brooklyn but eventually overmatched.
“We’re just not doing a good enough job of being physical and this is two nights in a row where a team has made us pay for it,” Jazz coach Will Hardy said.
The Knicks broke open the game by outscoring the Jazz 36-24 in the third quarter, when Brunson scored 13 points. He just missed what would have been his 10th 30-point game of the month.
Just 17-15 after three straight losses to end December, the Knicks improved to 31-17 and entered play Tuesday just percentage points behind Philadelphia for third place in the Eastern Conference.
“We’re playing well, we’re playing to our strengths we are just having good vibes,” Hart said.
Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said Randle is still evaluating treatment options after dislocating his right shoulder in a victory over Miami on Saturday and should know more soon. Anunoby, whose arrival in a trade with Toronto triggered the Knicks’ big month, has right elbow inflammation.
New York’s lead was just 61-60 after Sexton’s 3-pointer, but Achiuwa scored to begin an 11-0 run that Brunson ended with a 3-point play and a 3-pointer, making it 72-60. The lead was 10 after another basket by Sexton before the Knicks ran off 15 straight points, with DiVincenzo making two 3-pointers in the spurt that Quentin Grimes capped with two free throws to make it 91-66 with 1:38 remaining in the third.
With starting center Mitchell Robinson already out while recovering from left ankle surgery, the Knicks brought back Taj Gibson, the 38-year-old big man they waived earlier this season, on a 10-day contract.
Fans began chanting “We want Taj! We want Taj!” late in the game and Thibodeau put his trusted veteran in at the end.
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