Jalen Brunson helps Knicks stave off Magic rally


Eight minutes and 13 seconds remained in the third quarter and the Garden was suddenly quiet. A 10-point lead had vanished and the new point guard, Jalen Brunson, had just picked up his fourth foul despite hitting the floor himself.

Tom Thibodeau didn’t go to his bench, despite the situation.

“’Thibs,’ ” Brunson yelled out to his new coach, and Thibodeau didn’t flinch.

That is how much he trusts his new floor general. Brunson responded by not only avoiding his fifth foul until the fourth quarter, but picking the Knicks up off the mat as well.

Brunson scored the game’s next seven points, and his teammates followed his lead with an explosive 25-9 run to take control, sending the Knicks to their second win in as many games at the Garden, 115-102, over the young and winless Magic on Monday night.

Jalen Brunson dribbles during the first half.
Noah K. Murray-NY Post

“You can’t say enough about what Jalen does for the team,” Thibodeau said. “He’s just in complete control at all times. You hit some tough spots in the game and he has just such a strong demeanor and strong face, and it’s one of determination. It gives your team belief that, ‘We can do this.’ ”

After that mini-Brunson spurt, the game opened up for the Knicks (2-1). Shots began to fall. They got stops. Transition opportunities followed. After years without a true point guard, Brunson (21 points, six assists, two steals) already seems like the answer the Knicks have been waiting for at that position. He has alleviated some of the pressure on Julius Randle, who continued his strong start to the season with 25 points and 12 rebounds.

“Julius was terrific from start to finish,” Thibodeau said. “I love the way he’s diversifying his game. Running the floor. Sometimes he’s the pace guy, he’ll push it up and then he’ll create movement. Sometimes he just beats people down the floor. Him getting easy baskets is huge for us.”

Obi Toppin dunks in the first half.
Obi Toppin dunks in the first half.
Noah K. Murray-NY Post
Julius Randle
Julius Randle finished with a team-high 25 points.
Noah K. Murray-NY Post

RJ Barrett rebounded from a shaky first half to score 18 of his 20 points after the break and hit his first three 3-pointers of the season after missing his first 11. Mitchell Robinson added 14 points, six rebounds and three blocks, and Obi Toppin chipped in 10 points off the bench.

But it was Brunson who made the evening’s biggest plays. When the Magic (0-4) got within six with 4:28 left, Brunson sank a stepback jumper and drew the foul, shutting down the Orlando run. The Magic managed just four points the rest of the way.

“Typically [in past years] they’re looking for me to go get a basket [in that situation],” Randle said. “For [Jalen] to take that pressure off me is huge.”

Julius Randle, right, and RJ Barrett high-five during the Knicks' win over the Magic.
Julius Randle, right, and RJ Barrett high-five during the Knicks’ win over the Magic.
Noah K. Murray-NY Post

The bench provided a major jolt upon checking into the game in the first quarter, engineering a 16-6 run that was fueled by seven Cam Reddish points. Immanuel Quickley produced four assists in as many minutes to close the quarter, creating fast-break opportunities with his defense and pushing the ball down the floor.

Twice in that opening half, the Knicks looked ready to pull away, only for the Magic to counterpunch. It was a six-point edge at the break, but felt larger, the Knicks outrebounding and outshooting their opponent. The one negative was Barrett’s continued shooting woes, to the tune of a 1-for-9 start, the young wing impeding the Knicks’ free-flowing offense with forced and errant shots.

But Barrett responded after the half, Randle excelled and Brunson made big plays when it mattered most, continuing an early trend of the newcomer picking the right spots to be at his best.

“He really kept us steady in that little lull we had in the third [quarter],” Barrett said. “He keeps us poised, especially in those tough times. He made some huge shots that kept us in the lead.”


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