Jalen Brunson Is Back; Leads Knicks to Win. NY 109 Houston 94

Jalen Brunson returned from missing 2 games with a thigh injury and hit big bucket after big bucket in the 4th quarter to steer the Knicks to a 109-94 win over Houston at MSG on a Wednesday night.

Houston had pulled to within 10 points with 7 minutes left when Brunson began to extinguish their fire with a pullup jumper, an assist to Josh Hart for a floater, and another pullup jumper to put NY up 12. Brunson continued to hit big shots down the stretch to score 12 points in the quarter as NY turned a close game into an easy win.

A stark contrast to 2 days earlier when the Knicks without Brunson blew a lead down the stretch against Orlando.

Brunson scored 30 points on 11-21 shooting and moreover didn’t allow Houston to double- and triple-team Julius Randle, who was freed up to score 31 points on 11-18 shooting. Randle was coming off a 15-pt performance against Orlando with 5-18 shooting, where he was double- and triple-teamed all night.

“I told him to get his ass back,” said Randle about Brunson. “Stop messing around get back. I’m hurt; my body is hurt; get your ass back on the floor.”

“He adds tremendous value to our team,” added Randle. “Having the head of the snake our PG back, helps us be a little more organized.”

“We try to emphasize the 4th quarter is different,” said coach Tom Thibideau when asked how the Knicks are 20-1 with the lead going into the 4th quarter this season. “We try to stay true to what we want to get done, understanding what the strengths and weaknesses of our team are, and understanding what the strengths and weaknesses of our opponent are. And we want to play tough with the lead. We know we got to play hard, and we got to play smart, but we have to play together as well — so we try to emphasize that.”

NY improves to 24-17, and at the midway point of the season, they are on pace for 48 wins — and maybe more as their schedule in the first half of the season was extremely tough. Houston — much improved over last season — falls to 19-21.

1. Brunson and Randle with Statement Game

This was the first game after Gilbert Arenas had commented on a podcast: “This is how good Jalen Green is. You give them (Houston) Randle and Brunson right now, I guarantee they turn you down.”

Arenas was obviously talking about the next 10 years and Green’s potential but many Knick fans took it as a pot shot — the Knicks finally have something good and immediately people are shooting it down. Gilbert could have mentioned a number of tandems in the NBA such as Giannis Antetokounmpo and Damian Lillard for example, but it seems everyone is always ripping the Knicks.

Whether Brunson and Randle had extra incentive in this game will never be known, but here was the final line:

  • Randle: 31 pts on 11-18 shooting (4-5 from 3) , 8 rebounds, 4 assists, a block, and a +15
  • Brunson: 30 pts on 11-21 shooting (4-9 from 3), 3 rebounds, 7 assists and a +12.
  • Green: 15 pts on 6-15 shooting (0-5 from 3), 7 rebounds, 1 assist and a -11

2. Close 1st Half

Coaching is 65 percent of the NBA and the Rockets have a good one now in Ime Udoka, who did a great job in Boston before being fired for having an affair. Udoka has the Rockets playing a very physical, defensive brand of basketball, and they are much improved from last season when they went 22-60.

The heady and tough Fred VanVleet leads Houston at the point — he had 24 pts and 12 assists in this game. The 6’10 Alperen Sengun is having a great year as Houston’s center, averaging 21.5 ppg and 9 rebounds per game. Jabari Smith Jr is at the power forward slot alongside the physical Dillon Brooks at small forward.

Houston played even with the Knicks in the first half — NY with a 48-46 halftime lead.

3. Knicks Take Command in the 3rd

The Knicks came out of the half and took command — Randle on a drive and Brunson on a drive-and-1 and NY was up 54-48.

Consecutive 3-pt jumpers from OG Anunoby midway thru the period gave NY a 60-53 lead.

Donte DiVincenzo hit a deuce, fed OG Anunoby for a drive and Randle hit a 3 and NY was up 10, at 67-57 with 7 minutes left in the quarter.

Brunson and Randle continued to lead the Knick scoring as NY held a 8-pt lead entering the 4th.

4. Knicks Take It in 4th

The Knick Defense did a job on Houston. Isaiah Hartenstein did his usual bang-up job as the core of the defense — 11 rebounds, 2 steals, 2 blocks, 5 assists, and 7 pts in 41 minutes.

The Knicks second team played well at the start of the 4th to up the Knick lead to 11. Josh Hart played a great game — 10 pts and 14 rebounds in 30 minutes, including participation on this play of the game:

“Solid minutes and game from Josh Hart,” noted NBA analyst Ross Kreines. “Josh was active on the glass, made the extra effort plays, defended and did all the little things that lead to bigger things.”

Quentin Grimes (11 pts) hit a couple of big 3’s.

OG Anunoby did a great job stifling Sengun despite Sengun being 6’10.

“That was incredible,” said Julius Randle on OG’s defense against center Sengun. “Just his defensive instincts. He can reflex really well on that end. He just understands angles and all that different type of stuff. He’s really good on that end.”

“He’s really a defense onto himself,” said Thibs about OG and his addition to the team midway thru the season. “And then when you start factoring in what Isaiah is giving us. And also Deuce is an elite defender; Josh is very disruptive; Donte is also disruptive; and Quentin is disruptive. So we have a pretty good balance that we’re using. Julius is very physical; Jalen is physical in his own way — the way he takes charges and anticipates. So we’re relying on our defense right now and keep working on the offense.”

And then Brunson took it from there — hitting Big shots whenever needed down the stretch to orchestrate the Knicks to the win.


It was Tom Thibodeau’s birthday — he turned 66.

“Forever I can remember being at a game — and I can think of no better way to be around a bunch of people who care about the game and winning,” said Thibs afterwards. “That’s where the enjoyment comes from — people working together. So it’s a great birthday. And my mom’s birthday is tomorrow.”

The Boxscore


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