Eight days ago, the Knicks suffered an embarrassing defeat as they blew a nine point lead with 33 seconds left and lost to the Dallas Mavericks in overtime. Jalen Brunson did not play in that one. The talented point guard played last night and helped the Knicks avoid what would’ve been another one of those embarrassing defeats.
Brunson hit some clutch shots down the stretch and finished with a career high 38 points as the Knicks held off the San Antonio Spurs, 117-114 at Madison Square Garden last night. Knicks rebounded from their five game losing streak to win their third in a row and they’re 11-5 in their last 16 games.
Julius Randle had 25 points and 13 rebounds with four blocks and three steals and made some great hustle plays. Immanuel Quickley scored four of his 15 points in the fourth quarter. Mitchell Robinson was a non factor as he was in foul trouble, but Isaiah Hartenstein and Jericho Sims combined for 12 points and 12 rebounds.
The game should not have been this close. San Antonio got 61 points from their bench, while the Knicks continued to have trouble making their free throws and those two factors allowed an inferior Spurs team to hang around. The Knicks were 17 of 26 from the free throw line. If they make just five of those nine misses, this is a different game, but the Knicks continue to have trouble converting foul shots.
The lead changed hand a number of times down the stretch of the fourth quarter but Brunson’s 20’ step back jumper put the Knicks up 116-112 with less than a minute remaining.
After the Spurs Keldon Johnson made two free throws to make it a two point game, the Knicks had an awful offensive possesion that ended with an airball from Randle.
The Spurs had the ball but an egregious mistake led to a costly turnover. With 5.7 seconds left, Jeremy Sochan failed to make an inbounds pass as a five second violation was called, even though the Spurs still had a time out.
Quentin Grimes, who had 14 points on 5 of 8 shooting, made an astute defensive switch to help force the turnover. “I seen Keldon [Johnson] wide open,” Grimes said. “I had to make a decision and go out there, three would’ve tied it so I had to make sure I go out there and give him a hard close out. We kinda forced that little turnover, shot clock violation.”
Evan Fournier was inserted to give the Knicks a better free throw shooter on the floor but, going right along with the program, he made only of two to give the Spurs a little more life with 3.5 seconds left.
On the final possession, the Spurs did not even get a shot off thanks to the Knicks smothering defense.
The Knicks outrebounded the Spurs, 47-38, including a 14-9 advantage on the offensive glass that led to a 25-8 edge in second chance points. “The rebounding was the big concern for me,” Coach Tom Thibodeau said. “The difference in the game was probably the rebounding. Our offensive rebounding really helped us but we’re gonna have to do a lot better on the road.”
The Knicks led 39-29 after one and closed the second quarter on a 7-0 run to take a 62-55 lead at the half.
Both teams were red hot in the third quarter. The Spurs shot 67% (14 of 21) while the Knicks nearly matched that by shooting 61% (14/23) and were able to take a five point lead into the fourth quarter.
Keldon Johnson led the Spurs with 26 points, while Josh Richardson had 20. Former Knick Doug McDermott provided a spark with 15 points.
Brunson continues to be the point guard that the Knicks have been sorely missing in recent seasons. “I thought he [Brunson] made really good reads, he got into the paint. He did a lot of stuff that we needed,” said Thibodeau.