If Jaylen Brown (facial fracture) or DeMar DeRozan (grade 1 thigh strain) misses the All-Star game, New York Knicks point guard Jalen Brunson is the unquestioned top choice as a replacement.
Brunson proved that again Wednesday night as he completely outclassed the Atlanta Hawks’ former All-Stars Trae Young and Dejounte Murray in the Knicks’ wire-to-wire 122-101 victory.
Brunson outscored the Young-Murray tandem 29-25 as he hit 10 of 19 from the field in another efficient shooting night. The Knicks’ rising star added nine rebounds and five assists as he and two-time All-Star Julius Randle led the Knicks to their third straight win and five of their last six.
Brunson hiked his scoring average to 31.5 points on top of 6.0 assists and 4.2 rebounds since the All-Star roster was announced on Jan. 26.
“He’s good, and he knows he’s good,” New York coach Tom Thibodeau said. “I don’t think anyone is surprised by what he’s doing.”
Their 33rd win against 27 losses pushed them past the 32-27 Miami Heat, who lost in Brooklyn on the same night, for the sixth spot in the Eastern Conference heading into the All-Star break.
While Brunson was in the zone, Young failed to crack the Knicks’ tight defense as he missed 10 of 14 shots to end up with 19 points. He had 11 assists and four steals, but his atrocious shooting night typified the Hawks’ struggles all night.
Murray was a dismal 3 for 12 from the floor, and received two stitched for a lacerated lip from Jericho Sims’ elbow.
Randle had his usual hot start, firing 12 points in the opening quarter. RJ Barrett added eight of his 17 points as the Knicks built a 20-point lead and were never seriously threatened. Randle finished with his 38th double-double (25 points and 11 rebounds).
“Our leaders did a great job to start the game,” Thibodeau said. “I thought RJ’s aggressiveness, Julius with his aggressiveness, and [also] Jalen set the tone for the game.”
The Knicks controlled the boards, 55-40, and dominated the Hawks in every statistical department.
Josh Hart was impactful again off the bench with 13 points, including two key three-pointers in the fourth quarter that killed any hopes of a Hawks comeback. His arrival has fortified the Knicks bench, who exploded for 44 points.
Immanuel Quickley had 14 and four rebounds, while Isaiah Hartenstein continued to step up in Mitchell Robinson’s absence with 11 rebounds, four from the offensive glass.
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