Knicks catch heat in 2nd half, rally past Magic

Jalen Brunson, New York Knicks
Feb 7, 2023; Orlando, Florida, USA; New York Knicks guard Jalen Brunson (11) shoots the ball during the first quarter against the Orlando Magic at Amway Center. Mandatory Credit: Mike Watters-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Knicks overcame their worst first-half of the season by finishing strong.

They rallied from a 12-point first-half deficit to beat the Orlando Magic, 102-98, Tuesday night at Amway Center.

Jalen Brunson scored 25 points and dished out five assists as he took over down the stretch to lead the Knicks. Brunson poured 10 points in the fourth quarter and orchestrated their offense, with his fifth assist, the most pivotal one, setting up Jericho Sims for a baseline dunk that gave the Knicks a three-point cushion with 39.8 seconds left.

Then the Knicks steadied at the free throw line to improve to 16-11 on the road, the second-best record in the NBA behind league-leader Boston Celtics (18-9).

Brunson hit four consecutive clutch free throws, while Julius Randle, who had another monster double-double, sealed the win with his 14th rebound and another pair of free throws in the final 2.3 seconds.

Randle outplayed Rookie of the Year favorite and top overall pick Paolo Banchero en route to his 35th double-double of the season. The Knicks’ two-time All-Star scattered 22 points, 14 rebounds, and six assists.

It was the 30th win for the Knicks, who are on track to improve from their 11th-place finish last season. They didn’t reach 30 wins last season until their 70th game.

“Julius and Jalen set the tone in the fourth quarter,” New York coach Tom Thibodeau said. “And just the way we closed [the game] and big rebounds, physicality, hustle plays. Then we had a number of guys who made timely plays.”

Sims was one of them, who finished with eight points, nine rebounds, and two steals in 34 minutes. The second-year center got the lion’s share of playing time, with Isaiah Hartenstein limited by foul trouble.

Sims punished the Magic frontline with six points — all dunks — and two offensive rebounds in the fourth quarter to counter Magic’s backup center Mo Wagner’s 11 points.

“I thought the offensive rebounding by Jericho was huge for us. And then they were aggressive with Jalen, [the Magic] blitzing him. And once we got off the ball, boom, we got to the second pass. Good things came from that,” Thibodeau said.

Brunson adjusted in the second half and controlled the tempo of the game. He had 17 points on 6 of 8 shooting and three assists without a single turnover in the final half.

RJ Barrett recovered from another poor start, scoring 13 of his 15 points in the second half that helped the Knicks overhaul a pair of double-digit deficits in the first half and a nine-point Magic lead in the third quarter.

After a sluggish first half that saw them scoring a season-low 40 points, the Knicks hit their strides after halftime. They made 10 of their 15 three-pointers to break the Magic’s stifling defense.

Immanuel Quickley and Barrett had three triples each during the second half.

Quickley rebounded from a subpar game the last time with 18 points off the bench. He added four assists against zero turnovers to pace the Knicks’ second unit.

It was a grind-it-out victory against a young but physical Orlando team. In the end, the Knicks’ experience, anchored by Brunson and Randle, prevailed.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

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