Jalen Brunson named All-Star, scores 40 to lift Knicks
FEB 1, 2024 | ESPN
NEW YORK — Jalen Brunson goes out of his way to never let anyone in on what he’s thinking or feeling. But for even the most stoic of stars, everything that happened Thursday night — from making his first All-Star team to scoring 40 points and leading his New York Knicks to a come-from-behind victory at Madison Square Garden over the Indiana Pacers — was too much for him to ignore.
So, as Brunson was interviewed on the court after the game, he visibly had to contain his emotions as he was serenaded with MVP chants by the MSG faithful after New York’s 109-105 victory — their ninth straight overall, improving the Knicks to 15-2 in 2024.
And, he admitted later, the entire evening had been a pretty special one for him.
“It was really cool,” Brunson said. “The whole experience. The night. How we won. Obviously, what happened before the game … you always work for certain moments, but you never know how to react when they happen. So it was special.”
Thursday night’s victory was one right out of the same script the Knicks have produced time and again in recent weeks. Brunson was fabulous, powering New York to a win with Julius Randle (shoulder), OG Anunoby (elbow), Mitchell Robinson (ankle) and Quentin Grimes (knee) all missing due to injuries. And a group that plays with relentless energy dominated the glass with a 60-44 edge, which Pacers coach Rick Carlisle deemed as the difference in the outcome.
But, more than anything, this night was about Brunson, the leader of this team who, on virtually every other night, goes out of his way to make things about anyone else.
This time, however, he didn’t have a choice — to he and Randle being named All-Stars shortly before tip-off, to his emotional performance during the game to the way he was celebrated afterward — was all about Brunson and what he’s become.
After winning a pair of national titles at Villanova, he slipped to the second round before he was drafted by the Dallas Mavericks. Then, after helping Dallas make it to the Western Conference finals, he signed with the Knicks as a free agent in the summer of 2022. He narrowly missed making the All-Star team last year and missed being named a starter last week.
He then was given the nod everyone expected, which was met with a raucous cheer by the Garden faithful.
“It’s surreal,” Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said of seeing Brunson’s growth, having known him since he was a small child while coaching Brunson’s father, Rick, who now is on Thibodeau’s staff. “Each step of the way, there’s always been naysayers, and he always proves them wrong.”
He certainly did so again Thursday night, as the Knicks struggled mightily for large stretches of the game, including going 4-for-24 from 3-point range through three quarters.
But thanks to Brunson, who finished on 15-for-30 shooting, including an and-1 to put New York in front for good, the Knicks were able to move to within a half-game of the Milwaukee Bucks for second place in the Eastern Conference standings.
“What do you want me to say?” Knicks guard Donte DiVincenzo said with a smile, when asked how to describe Brunson’s performance. “He did exactly what everybody expects him to do, what he’s been doing all season long. One A, one B, it doesn’t matter. The dude is an All-Star. He’s having an MVP-caliber season right now. He should be the player of the month this month.
“What else can I say? The dude’s doing everything he possibly can for us to win games. It’s not easy right now with Julius going down, OG going down, Mitch not being here. Everything’s been thrown against us and he’s still willing us to win games.”
Brunson said he found out before the game that he’d made the All-Star team when his father gave him a nod during pregame warmups. And then, as a very physical game played out, he was much more demonstrative than usual over not getting calls, culminating in him punching his fist in the air after the go-ahead and-1 and a missed call that preceded it.
As his father waited for him to finish his interview from across the locker room, Brunson admitted that all of it was a lot for him to process — especially as he stood on the court afterward and soaked in the fans cheering him and everything that had happened over the few preceding hours.
“When the game’s going, you’re focused,” Brunson said. “And when it’s over you kind of relax and realize what’s going on. So yeah, it’s definitely different at that point. So, really thankful for the fans and what they’ve done for myself, my family and this team.”