Jalen Brunson and Josh Hart, who won a championship together at Villanova, have injected a winning mentality into the New York Knicks.
Brunson dropped 40 points while Hart came through with a season-high 27 as the reunited teammates ushered in a new era in the New York rivalry.
The Knicks snapped a nine-game losing streak against the Nets with a resounding 124-106 win Monday night at Madison Square Garden.
With no more Kevin Durant or Kyrie Irving to lean on, the Nets fell apart in the second half.
Spencer Dinwiddie led the Nets with 28 points but needed 21 shots. Cam Johnson added 14 on 5 of 10 field goal shooting night. But no other Brooklyn player has put up more than eight attempts.
The Knicks, who improved to 32-27, outscored their across-the-bridge rivals, 66-45, in the second half to run away with the victory that cut the 32-26 Miami Heat’s lead to half-game for the last outright playoff berth and the fifth-seed Nets (33-24) to just two games.
It was the Knicks’ third straight win at the Garden, finally giving them a winning home record, 16-15, since winning three of their first five home games this season.
Brunson was again their leading man, scoring 17 in the third quarter, where they inched ahead by six, 82-76, heading into the fourth quarter.
Hart and Immanuel Quickley finished off what Brunson started, combining for 22 points in the final quarter.
Brunson hit 15 of 21 field goals and 6 of 9 from downtown for his third 40-point game this season. He added five assists against zero turnovers as he became the first player in Knicks history with multiple games of at least 40 points, five assists, and 70 percent shooting in a single season.
“He is going to give the game whatever it needs,” said New York coach Tom Thibodeau of Brunson, who was an All-Star snub despite playing like one this season.
“In my eyes, he’s an All-Star,” Thibodeau added.
Meanwhile, Hart has been a ball of energy for the Knicks since he was acquired at the trade deadline. He punctuated the emphatic win with a back-to-back three-pointer to the delight of the sold-out Garden crowd.
“Watching Jimmy [Butler] in college and the things he did at Marquette, Josh [Hart] reminded me of that with the things he did at Villanova,” New York coach Tom Thibodeau said. “There’s something about them. I think those types of players give your team heart, toughness, and that goes a long way.”
The Knicks are unbeaten in two games since Hart joined the active lineup.
Hart and Quickley combined for 41 as the Knicks’ second unit outscored their Nets counterparts 51-29.
Julius Randle collected his 37th double-double this season, third-most behind Domantas Sabonis (44) and Nikola Jokic (41). He had 18 points and 10 rebounds.
The Knicks will be looking to extend their winning streak against another rival, Atlanta Hawks, Wednesday night on the road for their final game before the All-Star break.
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