Bruised and battered Knicks – and Jalen Brunson – have bright future despite second-round exit

Giants fans don’t support the Jets. Yankees fans don’t respect the Mets. Rangers fans don’t recognize the Islanders. New York is a divided sports city – except when it comes to basketball. The Knicks rule the city, despite the team’s recent struggles. New York won one playoff game between 2012 and 2022. But that all changed when Jalen Brunson came to town.

Eyebrows were raised in all five boroughs when the Knicks offered Brunson — a 6’1 point guard with 127 starts through the first four years of his career — a four-year contract worth $104 million in 2022, especially considering his father Rick had just been hired as an assistant coach. A small measure of success came early, when Jalen and Julius Randle combined for a first-round pick of the Cavaliers in their first year together. This season, already one of the best in the past two decades of Knicks history, has shown real return on investment.

New York really shouldn’t have gotten this far, since the injury report is longer than a CVS receipt. From the opening day starting lineup, only Brunson remained in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals. Julius Randle suffered a season-ending shoulder injury. Mitchell Robinson suffered a stress fracture in his foot during the season. Trade Acquisitions Bojan Bogdanovic required season-ending surgeries on his foot and wrist and OG Anunoby pulled a hamstring in Game 3 in Indiana. Brunson’s former teammates at Villanova, Josh Hart and Donte DiVincenzo, as well as Isaiah Hartenstein were acquired in the summer to add depth pieces over the summer. Instead, they were all given starting roles and all played more than 35 minutes per game this postseason.

Losing all that offensive firepower is difficult to overcome, but Brunson did his best to carry the load. His five playoff games in which he scored 40 or more points trail only LeBron James, Jerry West, Michael Jordan, fellow Knick Bernard King and Allen Iverson – all Hall of Famers, now or in the future. Adding to the legend, Brunson had a Willis Reed-esque moment in Game 2 against the Pacers. After injuring his foot in the second quarter, he returned to much fanfare, scoring 24 points while playing all 24 available minutes in the second half.

jalen brunson new york knicksjalen brunson new york knicks
Image: Sarah Stier/Getty Images.

Brunson, along with Hart and DiVincenzo, had a scrappy underdog feel despite being the second seed in the East. It was their ability to overcome all injuries, including those they suffered individually. DiVincenzo survived several hard falls as one of the main defenders of Indiana’s Tyrese Haliburton. Hart injured his abdominal muscle in Game 6, which typically sidelines players for a week to 10 days. Instead, Hart played 37 minutes in Game 7. Anunoby tried to play, but it was clear his hamstring was still bothering him and that only lasted about five minutes.

Brunson’s sore foot affected his offense, but his 421 playoff points scored to lead the league, with MVP Nicola Jokic (344), MVP runner-up Luka Doncic (327) and young phenom Anthony Edwards (316 ) behind him, according to statistics. .com. Unfortunately, Brunson suffered a broken left hand in the fourth quarter of Game 7, ending his season and essentially any chance the Knicks had of advancing to the Conference Finals.

It’s fitting that the Knicks’ home arena, Madison Square Garden, was nicknamed “the Mecca” for hosting some of the most iconic college basketball games in the sport’s history, which came to life this NBA postseason. College basketball championships are now played in football stadiums, so the new name “Nova Knicks” is the closest the Mecca will get to its roots. Knicks legends like King, Patrick Ewing, Carmelo Anthony, Walt Frazier, Latrell Spreewell, John Starks and others walked the courtside seats alongside celebrities like Ben Stiller, Chris Rock Jon Stewart, Steve Schirripa, Spike Lee and Fat Joe. The energy in the building was palpable, even when watching on television.

The NBA playoffs are a war of attrition. The Knicks lost that war, but found soldiers in Brunson, Hart and DiVincenzo. The lights are always bright in New York. After back-to-back second-round appearances – so is the future.