Jalen Brunson’s return, Mitchell Robinson’s bounce-back game propel Knicks over Nuggets

Mitchell Robinson, New York Knicks

The New York Knicks returned home from a West Coast trip with a huge win over the West’s best.

A fresh Jalen Brunson and a rejuvenated Mitchell Robinson delivered down the stretch as the Knicks completed a come-from-behind 116-110 victory over the Denver Nuggets Saturday at Madison Square Garden.

Brunson started the game on fire with 16 first-quarter points and finished strong. His lob to Robinson, who regained his spot in the closing lineup, sealed the Knicks’ third straight win as they held a firm grip on the fifth seed in the East.

The Knicks improved to 42-30 after registering their seventh win over their last eight home games.

Brunson hit the first go-ahead basket for a 110-108 Knicks lead with 2:55 left. After the Nuggets tied the game for the final time, Julius Randle hit a turnaround jumper then Brunson gave the Knicks a four-point cushion with two clutch free throws in the final 43.4 seconds.

Robinson also played a key part, forcing two-time MVP Nikola Jokic to miss two three-point attempts and grab a key rebound during that final stretch. His eye-in-the-sky play with Brunson in the final 24.9 seconds was a poetic ending to Robinson’s chaotic week.

Before and after the game, New York coach Tom Thibodeau admonished and lauded Robinson for apologizing after his Snapchat rant. The 24-year-old center backed it up with a solid effort against two-time MVP Jokic.

Robinson made 3 of 4 shots to finish with eight points. He added nine rebounds, three assists, one steal, and a block in his first game since his Snapchat rant about his lack of role in the team’s offense. More importantly, he was a plus-8 during his 26-minute stint.

The Knicks drew solid 48 minutes from their centers, as Isaiah Hartenstein came off the bench with six points, nine rebounds, a dime, two steals, and a block.

Brunson’s return from a left foot injury restored order to the Knicks’ offense, especially at crunch time.

Their bench mob set up the thrilling finish with a big third-quarter run.

Immanuel Quickley and Josh Hart’s back-to-back three-pointers capped a 17-6 run for the Knicks to tie the game after falling behind 84-71 with 6:44 left in the third quarter.

“I liked the way we started the game. I didn’t like the way we played in the second quarter,” Thibodeau said. “But I thought we came back in the third quarter. [It was] pretty solid. But in the fourth quarter, we were at our best, and it was a number of people doing a lot of things.”

RJ Barrett was attacking. Brunson and Randle made clutch plays. Robinson was huge. Quickley and Hart provided energy.

Three players scored in the 20s, led by Brunson’s 24 points and five assists. Barrett had 21 points on an efficient 8 of 13 shooting. Randle added 20, seven rebounds, and four assists.

Hart was again all over the floor, collecting 13 points, eight rebounds, five assists, and three steals.

The Nuggets shot a scorching 51.2 percent from the field but turned out cold down the stretch. New York’s defense tightened up and forced Denver to a paltry 38.9 percent shooting in the fourth quarter.

The Knicks now hold a two-game lead over their crosstown rival, Brooklyn Nets (39-31), and pulled within 2.5 games behind the fourth-seed Cleveland Cavaliers with 10 games remaining. They have their eyes set on a fourth straight win Monday against the visiting Minnesota Timberwolves.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

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