In all 48 minutes of action, one member of the New York Knicks was not willing to see his team suffocate to the Miami Heat. He put up 38 points, 7 assists, and 9 rebounds on 12-22 shooting. New York’s head coach Tom Thibodeau said of him, “I’ve never seen anyone work the way he does.” He was, in many ways, the heart and soul of the team’s 112-103 triumph to keep their season alive.
His name is Jalen Brunson, and he has proved to so many that the Knicks live or die with the energy he brings to the court.
At the Garden, the Knicks pushed the Miami Heat to Game 6 behind their guard’s gem of a performance, and this came after so many people wrote off the Knicks following a disastrous Game 4. But he and teammate Quentin Grimes (who also played 48 minutes despite an apparent leg injury) gave it their all to lead New York.
Grimes scored 8 points and had five assists, four rebounds, two steals, and two blocks in an effort where it was less about numbers and more about impact. He was tasked with guarding Miami Heat star Jimmy Butler, and did so admirably (allowing only 19 points).
“He’s probably been the best player of the playoffs so far. So knowing I have that matchup every night, I have to be more disciplined and probably have to play 48,” Grimes said of Butler. “Forty eight or 25, it really doesn’t matter to me. I’ve just got to make sure I’m locked in on him defensively and try to do whatever I can to slow him down.”
The duo’s full playing time is unusual historically: According to ESPN Stats & Information research, the last time Tom Thibodeau played someone for an entire playoff game it was none other than Jimmy Butler in 2014, when both were in Chicago. Brunson and Grimes also became the first Knicks duo to play an entire playoff game since Walt Frazier and Jerry Lucas did it in 1972.
Game 5 saw the Knicks up for most of the game following a disastrous first quarter, though Miami made things uncomfortably close late. But New York got a great game out of Brunson and were able to ride strong efforts from RJ Barrett (26 points) and All-NBA Third Team member Julius Randle (24 points). Randle having a good scoring game is significant, especially after his comments about the Heat wanting to win more went viral. He overcame a slow start to deliver, and judging by the fact that the Knicks crushed the Heat on the boards (they outrebounded Miami by 16) it seems the will to win is there.
The Heat lead the second round playoff series 3-2 and have a chance to close things out at home in South Beach on Friday night (tipoff 7:30 PM). Perhaps Game 5 was the dying gasp for the Knicks as opposed to a second wind. After all, Miami is a team known to excel in ugly, dogfight-type games when there’s no premium on scoring. Plus, who is to say Brunson is due for another season-saving effort?
But maybe, just maybe, the Knicks are back in it. Everyone watching could see they would not roll over in defeat.