Studs and Duds: Knicks pick up crucial win over the Blazers to begin the West Coast road trip

NBA: New York Knicks at Portland Trail Blazers
Credit: Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Knicks handled the first game of a four-game road trip with a commanding win against the Portland Trailblazers. The Knicks are now 14-2 and allowing only 98.6 points per game with OG Anunoby in the lineup. Anunoby sat in the first half with elbow aggravation, but following proper precaution, he returned to the contest. A Jalen Brunson masterclass fueled New York’s efforts as he dropped 45 points in a Knicks 105-93 victory

Studs: Jalen “All-NBA” Brunson

The production from Jalen Brunson this season is reaching “all-time” territory in New York Knicks history. Brunson is now tied for third all-time with Carmelo Anthony for most games with 45+ points. Trailing Richard Guerin and Bernard King all-time by only three games, the likelihood of three or more 45+ point games in Brunson’s New York career is a winning bet.

The often cerebral approach from Brunson was maximized on this occasion, only converting twice from beyond the arc; a much more methodical mid-range maestro was seen against a defensively formidable Trail Blazers team

A 21-point first half followed by a 24-point second-half masterclass saw Brunson go for 45 points on 46% from the field. The Knicks as a team only converted on six three-point attempts, but Brunson got to the free throw line 17 times in full attack mode against a younger, less polished squad.

Brunson is tied with Stephen Curry for fifth most 40-point games this season. Phenomenal production on a more winning team may be in Brunson’s favor to be on an All-NBA team following this season. 

Studs: The Knicks’ defense is back in shape

OG Anunoby deserves an enormous amount of credit for revitalizing the New York Knicks’ defense, as it stagnated before the trade for him. Anunoby finished with 12 points, nine rebounds, and two steals in 35 minutes of action.

Regarding the elbow aggravation suffered in the first half, Anunoby stated, “It’s just sore. Nothing really happened. Just went for a ball. And it hurt randomly, but it’s fine.” 

In the last six games, New York is first in defensive rating across the NBA. A mix of effective defensive rotations has established the Knicks as a 48-minute nightmare for opposing teams. The engine that Anunoby becomes for New York’s defense is a luxury related to that of Brunson on offense.

The Trailblazers had decent length and will be a poised defensive team, but the Knicks were more disciplined and better poised as the game progressed. Josh Hart tallied a game-best 15 rebounds against a former No. 1 pick in Deandre Ayton. The games within the game that New York prioritizes cultivate a winning mentality as confidence grows throughout the rotation. 

Duds: Alec Burks barely sees the court

The profound excitement from Knicks fans when people found out Alec Burks would be returning resonated around social media. Unfortunately, Burks has yet to respond emphatically to the expectations of New York fans. Only logging four minutes against the Trailblazers, head coach Tom Thibodeau stated Burks’ limited minutes were a “basketball decision.”

The February 10th 22-point performance against the Indiana Pacers has been an afterthought. Since that game, Burks has only eclipsed double-digit scoring twice while averaging 6.6 points per game in his 15 games with the Knicks. The chances will appear for a big night from Burks, but the consistency and more efficient scoring may be a remnant of the past. 

Takeaways from the Knicks’ win over the Trail Blazers 

The Knicks begin this West Coast road trip on a good note, with some tough competition on the way, as a remarkable performance from Jalen Brunson won for New York in the second half. Portland had no answer for the show-stopping Brunson. OG Anunoby’s presence alone is the catalyst for a tenacious Knicks defense.

The brilliant IQ and intangibles within the refreshed rotation indicate these upcoming contests may be a handful for New York’s opposition. On Saturday, the Knicks will face the Sacramento Kings, followed by Golden State, and Denver. Every game matters down the stretch as the NBA playoff standings take shape. 

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