Knicks Close the Curtain on Magic Act

AP Photo/Frank Franklin II

Jalen Brunson returned and the Knicks put on a defensive clinic as they walloped the Orlando Magic with a wire to wire, 98-74 win at Madison Square Garden last night.

Holding the Magic to 74 points just happened to be the fewest points that any team has scored in an NBA game this season. That’s how good this Knicks defense was.

It’s not just your individual d, it’s your team defense,” Coach Tom Thibodeau said. “You have to swarm, you have to fly around, you have to give second and third effort. You have to be disruptive.”

The win vaulted the Knicks (37-26) past the Magic (37-27) into fourth place in the Eastern Conference as they await the return of OG Anunoby, who is practicing but still has to be cleared to come back on the court, which should not be too much longer.

The Knicks shot 48% (38/79) overall and 48% (16/33) from three as they rebounded nicely from their loss to the Atlanta Hawks where they couldn’t make a shot.

Brunson was his usual fabulous self as he led all scorers with 26 points on 11 of 19 from the floor, 4 of 7 from three. The Knicks MVP (Most Valuable Player and point guard), who missed the Atlanta game because of a bruised knee, made his presence felt early with 10 first quarter points, making 4 of 5 shots.

You have nothing but respect for him because he does everything he can to get back as quick as he can,” Thibodeau said about his star point guard.

Josh Hart, who logged over 40 minutes for an 8th consecutive game, continued to play at a high level with 19 points, 7 rebounds and 4 assists. Precious Achiuwa was dominant with 15 points, 14 rebounds, 4 assists and a career high 5 blocked shots as he put together a terrific all around effort.

He’s [Achiuwa] guarding [Pablo] Banchero, who’s, I think, an incredible talent, and that requires a lot,” said Thibodeau. “Offensively, he made a number of big plays for us. Hustle plays, the offensive rebounding, but not only the offensive rebounding, the dribble hand offs, the extra effort type stuff.”

Donte DiVicenzo had a rough shooting night going 3 for 13, 3 for 10 from beyond the arc but he reached a milestone of 200 made three pointers this season.

The Magic could not hit the ocean if they were standing on the end of the pier, as the Knicks defense held them to 34% shooting (27/79), including 6 of 26 from three (23%).

The reigning Rookie of the Year, Pablo Banchero led Orlando with 23 points, but the Magic who are ranked as one of the better defensive teams in the NBA, showed a surprising lack of effort against a Knicks team that they had beaten in their previous three meetings.

The Knicks wanted to get out early and did just that. Hart scored the first five points of the game and the Knicks never looked back.

We didn’t get off to good starts [in previous two home games vs. Golden State and Atlanta] so that was a big thing for us,” Hart said. “Get out, play from the lead and just play good basketball.”

Brunson’s three pointer made it a 21-9 lead with less than six minutes left and Deuce McBride hit a pair of threes as the Knicks led 31-23 after one.

The Knicks stayed hot making 8 of their first 9 three pointers to take a 39-25 lead in the second quarter. Brunson hit a pull up jumper to spark a 9-0 run to finish the quarter and the Knicks had a 55-39 lead at halftime. The 39 points scored by the Magic was the Knicks’ fewest allowed in a half this season.

It was more of the same in the second half as the Knicks didn’t let up. With a little over two minutes left in the third quarter, McBride hit a three and was fouled. After McBride converted the free throw, the Knicks led 78-52, the 26 point margin, their largest of the game.

The Knicks never let the Magic get closer than 18 points and with a little over three minutes remaining, Hart thrilled the crowd with a spectacular put back dunk off a Brunson miss to make it a 93-70 lead. “We kept playing every possession and we stuck together. Found ways to make plays and get out in transition. We found a way to win,” said Brunson.

The Knicks really wanted this one against Orlando who not only had owned them, but it was a way to prepare themselves for a huge two game series against the seventh place Philadelphia 76ers on Sunday and Tuesday, with both games at the Garden.

It was a big game for us to come out with confidence, with energy and really play our brand of basketball,” Hart said.

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