Brunson & Burks & Defense! NY 98 Sacramento 91

Jalen Brunson put the Knicks on his back again, scoring 42 points with superstar moves; Alec Burks came up with big buckets in his best game of the season; Isaiah Hartenstein put the CLAMPS on Domantas Sabonis in the 2nd half; and the Knick team Defense won the day as NY beat Sacramento on a Saturday night in Sacramento, 98-91.

Josh Hart was everywhere, ripping down 13 rebounds, and picking up so many steals with quick-hand deflections inside — many that he didn’t get credit for. OG Anunoby — not expected to play due to post-surgery management (aka his tender elbow got Banged a lot the game before) — played and was also instrumental to the Knick overall Defense that shut down the high-scoring Kings, one of the best teams in the West.

It was a close, intense, physical game throughout –NY taking a lead just before the half that Sacramento slowly erased to take a 4-point lead early in the 4th. But Alec Burks came up huge, and then Bogdan Bogdanovic hit big buckets to give NY a lead. The Knicks’ Defense held court, and Jalen Brunson came back in the game to finish Sacramento off.

“It was a hard-fought game,” said coach Tom Thibodeau afterwards. “There was a physicality to it. We made a number of tough plays, particularly in the 4th quarter when the game was in the balance. You can’t say enough about the way Isaiah played, protecting the rim. Josh same thing — flying all over the place. And OG just impacting the game, without scoring, like everywhere. We got good bench play, with Alec and Bogey.”

“And then you almost come to expect what Jalen did — it’s every night — and it’s big play after big play,” continued Thibs. “It was a good team win. The defense was really good. They’re a very gifted offensive team.”

NY improves to 40-27, in 4th place in the East, 2 games back of Cleveland and 3 back of Milwaukee. Sacramento falls to 38-28, and 7th in the West.

1. Physical, Intense Game from the Start

Just before the game, an NBA league memo came out that revealed NBA officials have been instructed — in memos they received in January and February — to increase “officiating focus on offensive players hunting out fouls and veering off pathways to the basket into defenders.” The league memo pointed out how this has decreased league scoring, and how the league will continue to “evaluate the state of offensive vs. defensive balance with a focus on legal guarding position and level of contact on pathway plays to the basket.”

In other words, the NBA is looking to reduce the super high scoring that has been going on because people are getting turned off — and more physical play has been, and will be allowed.

And this game was a case in point: Sacramento — coached by Mike Brown — came out with a physical intensity on Defense, and the Knicks of course play that way every night — so we had a chippy, barnstormer from the start, with the refs ‘letting the boys play.’

2. Sabonis Kills NY Inside in 1st Half

The Kings came in with an almost identical record to the Knicks (although the NY record has been hindered by all the injuries). The Kings are led by All Star Domantas Sabonis and he tore the Knicks up inside in the 1st half.

Sabonis was schooling Isaiah Hartenstein, drawing fouls, scoring buckets inside, and making great passes to teammates like De’Aaron Fox or Keegan Murray for scores inside.

Sabonis killed the Knicks in the 1st quarter with 13 points, sending Hartenstein to the bench for Precious Achiuwa who also had a hard time guarding Sabonis — as he hit a 3 and scored 2 buckets inside as soon as Achiuwa came in to defend him.

Knicks Close 1st Quarter Well

Brunson tallied back for NY, and the Knicks closed the 1st quarter well — a Josh Hart jumper, then Defense, Hart ripping down a rebound and a quick outlet to Bogan Bogdanovic for a dunk with 1 second left to pull NY to within 22-21.

3. Burks & Brunson to the Rescue

Alec Burks — who had been dreadful in the prior two games — only getting 5 and 4 minutes respectively — came to play in this one. He started the 2nd quarter with consecutive 3’s to give NY a lead, then made a couple of nice assists for Jalen Brunson scores, and NY was up 40-37 with 4 minutes to go in the period.

Brunson was on Fire — scoring 15 points in the period. He was driving and hitting his 3 ball, and hitting teammates like Precious Achiuwa for assists inside.

Malik Monk was a pain in the ass — hitting 3’s to disallow NY from taking a bigger lead. And Sabonis was still schooling Hartenstein. A Sabonis hook-and-1 (with foul Hartenstein) pulled Sacramento to within 42-41.

4. Knicks Finish the Half Well for 53-48 Lead

But the Knicks finished the half well — Hartenstein with an offensive rebound and hook shot, then Defense forcing a Keegan Murray miss, with Josh Hart grabbing the rebound and then quick full-court attack and pass to Brunson in the corner for a 3 and 53-48 Knick lead.

Then the Defense to finish the half — Hartenstein blocking a Domantas shot inside.

Hartenstein was starting to figure out Sabonis.

5. Hart Flagrant; Fox Goes Off to Lead Kings Back in 3rd

Brunson started off the 3rd with a drive and a floater and NY was up by 9 points and in control.

But then Keegan Murray was HACKED by Josh Hart on a drive — and officials ruled a flagrant as Hart wacked Murray across the head.

This was a turning point as it juiced Sacramento up and they started playing with the mad aggression they had started the game with.

Murray hit the free throws, Sacramento got back the ball after the flagrant, and scored again, then stole the ball for a Fox layup to make if 57-54, then forced NY into a shot-clock violation.

Fox Gets Ignited

On the next play Fox drove the lane and but Hartenstein deflected his shot for a steal — Fox felt he had been fouled and got hit with a Technical.

This riled Fox and he really started tearing into the Knicks, attacking the rim, drawing fouls. Hartenstein blocked one of his shots (insult to injury), DiVincenzo fouled him on one drive, and Fox took Anunoby on the baseline for a foul.

Brunson Gets Riled

Meanwhile Brunson was riled as well — and was on his game, punishing Sacramento time after time with nifty moves.

6. Hartenstein Shuts Down Sabonis in 2nd Half

Meanwhile Hartenstein was doing a JOB on Sabonis — stifling him repeatedly inside, and causing Sabonis to send it back out or turn it over.

“Isaiah Hartenstein won’t get headlines but his impact is deserving,” noted NBA Analyst Ross Kreines. “He’s relentless on the glass, sets screens that create space for others, challenges/alters shots and does all the little things while taking no play for granted .Plays for the name on the front not the back. Winner”

7. Bogey, Burks, then Brunson & Knicks D Win It

The game was chippy and close to the end of the 3rd, NY pulling out with a 1-point lead on a Josh Hart free throw near the end of the quarter.

  • But Keegan Murray hit a 3 to start the 4th and De’Aaron Fox free throws put Sacramento up by 4.
  • Bogan Bogndanovic stepped up and hit a Huge 3, and then Alec Burks stepped up with a J and a drive for free throws the next time down for a 3-pt Knick lead. A twisting Bogey layup upped the NY lead to 5 — a 9-0 Knick run.
  • Sacramento went inside to Sabonis, but Hartenstein shut him down — blocking his shot.
  • A Harrison Barnes 3 kept Sacramento in it, but Brunson made a spectacular drive-and-1 and NY was back up 4.

Brunson took over down the stretch — hitting a 3 to put NY up 7.

  • A Monk 3 kept Sacramento in it, but a Hartenstein drive-and-1 on Sabonis put NY back up 7 with 3 minutes left.
  • But a Fox pullup and a Keon Ellis drive pulled Sacramento to within 94-91 with 2:31 left.

The game went to the trenches — both teams playing tough D to force misses. Brunson missed 3 shots in a row that would have put the game away; on the other end Sabonis got the ball inside but was denied by Anunoby on a switch and Hartenstein covering back.

Finally with 40 seconds left and NY holding a 94-91 lead — Brunson brought it up, guarded by Keon Ellis. Ellis was looking over his shoulder for a pick or a screen. Brunson faked a signal — Ellis looked that way — and Brunson took off for the rim for an easy drive and Ballgame — Knick 5-pt lead with 37 seconds left.

Anunoby blocked a Fox jumper down the other end, and Barnes missed a 3 off an offensive rebound.

After that it was fouls and Brunson made the free throws.

The Boxscore

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