Jalen Brunson delivers monster performance as Knicks survive Spurs

Jalen Brunson, New York Knicks
Jan 4, 2023; New York, New York, USA; New York Knicks guard Jalen Brunson (11) reacts during the fourth quarter against the San Antonio Spurs at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Gregg Popovich already had a bad omen before his San Antonio Spurs tried to repeat it over the New York Knicks.

“[Jalen Brunson] is a monster. He has such a toughness about him, a high basketball IQ, hard to guard. He really tests your discipline.”

Gregg Popovich pregame via MSG Network

Brunson proceeded to do precisely how Popovich described him.

After building a reputation as a Spurs killer while playing in Dallas, Brunson continued to be their nightmare. The crafty guard dropped a regular season career-high 38 points to fuel the Knicks’ gut-wrenching 117-114 win Wednesday night before another sold-out Madison Square Garden crowd.

The 21-18 Knicks improved to 10-10 at home and jumped in the Eastern Conference standings, tied for sixth with Indiana Pacers thanks to Brunson’s heroics.

But despite Brunson’s career night, the Knicks had to lean on Spurs rookie Jeremy Sochan’s costly blunder in the final 5.7 seconds to complete their escape act.

Sochan committed a five-second inbound violation and then immediately fouled Evan Fournier in the ensuing play. Fournier split his free throws, giving the Spurs one more shot at forcing overtime. But the Knicks clamped on defense, with Quentin Grimes closing out hard on Keldon Johnson, who paced the Spurs with 25 points.

Brunson scored 19 in each half, adding six rebounds and seven assists in a monster performance. He took over when it mattered most, delivering three straight baskets that gave the Knicks a 116-112 breather with 1:17 remaining.

Julius Randle notched his 11th double-double in the last 12 games with 25 points, 13 rebounds, and a season-high four blocks.

Immanuel Quickley (15 points, 8 rebounds, 5 assists) continued to shine in a starting role, filling in for the injured RJ Barrett. Grimes (14 points, 3-5 3s, 2 steals) was also solid on both ends.

But the Knicks’ second unit, who missed Obi Toppin for the 14th game despite being cleared to play, were overwhelmed, allowing the Spurs to erase a 13-point deficit in the first half and briefly take the lead.

Veterans Josh Richardson, Zach Collins, and former Knick Doug McDermott kept the Spurs afloat with a combined 51 points off the bench.

The Spurs continued to stifle Mitchell Robinson.

After his scoreless and six-rebound effort in San Antonio, Robinson was held to four points and five rebounds in a foul-plagued 14 minutes. Despite Robinson playing below par, the Knicks still won the battle of the boards, 47-38.

But Brunson was the biggest difference-maker as the Knicks won their third straight since their 122-115 loss in San Antonio, which he missed with a hip injury.

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