There was no way New York Knicks‘ rising star Jalen Brunson would sit Wednesday’s game in his hometown.
He had this date circled on his calendar.
Wearing a boot a day earlier and questionable to play until a few hours before tip-off, Brunson braved his way from the tunnel onto the familiar hardwood floor of the United Center, where he watched his childhood hero-turned-teammate-and-mentor Derrick Rose become the NBA’s youngest MVP in 2011.
There were no ill effects of the contused right foot he suffered on Sunday night’s win against Sacramento as he put on a show in front of his friends, high school teammates, and coaches to sink his hometown team, Chicago Bulls, 128-120, in overtime.
The Knicks’ starting point guard scored seven of his 30 points in the extra period, with his final shot — a marvelous step-back, ankle-breaking three-pointer that floored the Bulls’ best defender Alex Caruso in the last 28 seconds — icing the contest.
An emotional Brunson gestured toward his high school coach and one of his best friends in the crowd.
“It means a lot. …It was pretty special.”Jalen Brunson postgame via Knicks digital
It brought back memories of Brunson’s other legendary 30-point performance seven years ago when he carried the Stevenson High School to the Illinois state championship — his parting shot before going to Villanova.
A two-time Illinois High School Player of the Year, Brunson blossomed into a supernova at Villanova and won two NCAA titles.
Not long after, he grew into the Dallas Mavericks’ second-best player next to generational talent Luka Doncic. But unlike the 6-foot-7 Doncic, whose God-given gifts have made him a prodigy at a young age in Europe, the much smaller Brunson had to work harder for his.
“When I was with the Bulls, [Jalen Brunson] would be in the gym as soon as practice was over, and he would be into his workouts and he sometimes play pickup with us out there and we have runs with coaches, and he’d be there and he was a hard worker then.
I never would have thought, like seeing him way back, that he would turn into this player in the NBA. But I knew, like it didn’t shock me at all that he was winning at Villanova. That wasn’t a thing for me.
I knew that he would win. What shocked me is and I knew he’d be an NBA player. I had no doubt that he was going to be an NBA player. But he is like, so good, so efficient. The way that he plays, it’s like he’s dictating the pace and tempo of the game. And that’s what I think what Tom (Thibodeau) is talking about all those coaches and it’s not like Rick (Brunson) just telling him, ‘get out there and do your thing, score 40 every night.’ He was teaching him the way you run a team, how to attack, teaching you the shots that you’re supposed to take at this point, like efficiency, learning all that stuff. And that’s a big jumpstart to his career and being around coaches and Rick who is like, teaching him what good basketball is.”Former Bulls forward Brian Scalabrine via NBA Sirius XM
Now, he’s running the Knicks the way it’s supposed to be run.
On Wednesday night, he dissected the Bulls’ defense with precision, slicing into the paint with his herky-jerky move and throwing up floaters and lobs.
He ceded to Julius Randle, who continued to wax hot with his third 30-point performance in four games, to try to close out the Bulls at the end of the regulation.
But when it fizzled out, Brunson took over in overtime.
From icing his foot to icing the game.
“It says a lot about him. It’s everything you know [about him], coming in and multiple treatments every day, and that becomes his game, that becomes his practice and, he’s been through so many different things. He has a strategy for everything and he just gets out there and gets it done.”Tom Thibodeau on Jalen Brunson via MSG Network
During this Knicks’ five-game winning streak, a banged-up Brunson has played his heart out. He did his thing without stealing anybody’s spotlight until he shone brightest Wednesday night when the Knicks needed him to gut out the win in the place and in front of people that mean so much to him.
“He wants to win. I think that’s where his joy comes from, is it’s winning and if he scored two points and we won, he would be thrilled. And that’s what I love about him. He loves to win, he loves when his teammates do well. I think it’s been great for our team. It’s the best type of leadership that you can have. It’s just doing the right things each and every day.”Tom Thibodeau on Jalen Brunson via MSG Network
Brunson’s 30-point and seven-assists performance upped his career-high averages in his first season with the Knicks to 20.4 points and 6.3 assists. His 20.59 Player Efficiency Rating (PER) trails only Trae Young (21.16) and Tyrese Haliburton (23.71) among all point guards in the Eastern Conference, per ESPN.
If the Knicks continue this hot streak, it will only bolster Brunson’s case to become an All-Star this season.
Finally, the Knicks have a leader in Brunson, who is all about the good stuff that has eluded them for years.
“His parents have done an unbelievable job with him. He’s benefited from Rick, who has played for an incredible amount of Hall of Fame coaches. A byproduct of that is the way Rick has taught him the game and to Jalen’s credit, the way Jalen wanted to be.
I don’t want to underscore how important he was a sponge, and he was from six, five years old. Rick is taking the best from the best, giving it all to [Jalen]. And I don’t want to overlook his mom’s contribution because that’s the total package. It’s he’s just a great person. He’s a great player. And he’s made himself into that.”Tom Thibodeau on Jalen Brunson via MSG Network
Jalen’s mother, Sandra, was a volleyball player at Temple University, where she met Rick, who was one of the stars of their men’s basketball team under the late John Chaney.
Wednesday night’s heroic performance was just the latest proof of Brunson’s brand of leadership that has helped the Knicks overcome several road bumps.
“I don’t want to give anyone that notion that I’m healthy, but I just want it today off. I think me as a leader, if I’m able to walk, then I’m able to play. I gotta bring it.Jalen Brunson postgame via Knicks digital
Brunson brought everything he had in a triumphant return to Chicago.
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