Knicks’ Jalen Brunson is finding space, eluding defenders and scoring: ‘That’s our engine’

PHILADELPHIA – Ferdinand Magellan has nothing on Jalen Brunson.

One of the greatest forwards in history never had to step around a pick-and-roll and look into the eyes of a mammoth like Joel Embiid. The hope in these moments — when the Philadelphia 76ers drape Brunson while Embiid stands in his way — is to find space. Discoveries are not as easy when land is already occupied.

Yet Brunson continues to find it.

Maneuver toward Embiid and he risks a blocked or altered shot. Get there early and the 76ers get what they want: a rushing jumper from an ineffective part of the court.

Brunson may not have sailed into the uncharted waters of the Pacific Ocean. But just when it seems like Earth has just a few unknown crevices left, that’s when Brunson moves to a new location, as he did many times during Victory 97 -92 of the New York Knicks’ Game 4 on Sunday.

Place him inside a defense with the Sixers’ relentless defenders behind him with Embiid waiting down low, where every nook and cranny of the hardwood appears to be covered, and Brunson will plant his flag where the man hasn’t never set foot before.

“I explore a lot,” Brunson said. “I see a lot of things and I just read what’s going on, what (Embiid) is doing, and then I find out something.”

On Sunday, there weren’t many problems that Brunson couldn’t solve. Everywhere the Sixers went, he eluded them.

The Knicks point guard went for a franchise playoff record with 47 points and 10 assists, giving the Knicks a 3-1 lead in their first-round series. New York now has three chances to win once. Two of them, including the next one, will be on familiar ground for Brunson at Madison Square Garden. If they move on, they’ll have a date with the Milwaukee Bucks or Indiana Pacers in the second round.

Life may not be as difficult for Brunson against either of these opponents, both of whom lack the defensive presence on the perimeter that the Sixers have. But despite a rock-solid game plan of exhaustive effort, endless physicality and smart play after smart play, Philadelphia no longer contains one of the league’s sneakiest scorers.

Wherever the 76ers go, whatever they do, Brunson navigates to open space and destroys a top-notch defense.

“Jalen is a great player,” OG Anunoby said. “We expect it. You expect him to make every shot.

Early in Game 4, Brunson attacked the rim. He then became familiar with his float. He made it a point to prioritize the short, mid-range shot over the longer 16-foot shots. When he wrapped around a pick-and-roll with one defender on his back and another in front of him, he drifted to a sweet spot between and transformed into a familiar being, with the mentality of ‘a man-sized striker from the 1990s. a leader of the Big East and the cartographic genius of Marco Polo.

“That’s our driving force,” Josh Hart said.

And his Knicks are running behind him.

They do it because of the defense. Anunoby was magical in Game 4, his biggest performance during this series, scoring 16 points and grabbing 14 rebounds. He started the game in a adjusted defensive role, guarding Kelly Oubre Jr. and moving to the middle, cutting off driving lanes while also having to close out on shooters.

In the fourth quarter, Anunoby passed to Embiid, who he worked hard with. The Sixers center did not make a single shot in the final period and only scored one point during this period.

They do it because of the bounce. Once again, the Knicks destroyed the 76ers on the glass, grabbing 15 offensive rebounds on a day when Mitchell Robinson did not play because of a sprained left ankle.

But they also do it because very often, the team that wins a playoff series is the one with the best player.

In Game 3, when Embiid scored 50 points, he owned that title. It was no coincidence that Philadelphia reigned victorious that night.

But on Sunday, during a hectic series where referee-induced drama overshadowed high-caliber basketball, Brunson turned his attention back to the players.

“We needed it,” Hart said. “S…, starting small forward, power forward, whatever I am, where I didn’t make a shot. I was like Shaq at the free throw line.

But even when Shaquille O’Neal missed his free throws, he still had Kobe Bryant. Hart still has his driving force, Brunson.

Hart may have made all seven of his field goal attempts, but he made up for it with 17 rebounds, five assists and three blocks. He’s not the only one Brunson had to help. Donte DiVincenzo hasn’t knocked down jumpers as expected since dropping the winner in that chaotic Game 2. He finished Game 4 with eight points on 3-of-11 shooting. Only Brunson (47), Anunoby (16) and Miles “Deuce” McBride (13) scored in double figures for the Knicks.

Philadelphia threw everything it could at Brunson. Oubre remained faithful to him. Kyle Lowry got physical. Nicolas Batum displays his veteran know-how. Players who aren’t his primary defenders have always locked into Brunson.

For the first two games of this series, Brunson didn’t look like himself, shooting just 29 percent from the field. For the last two, and especially on Sunday, he punished the shifts. Once the 76ers gave him a vulnerable defender, he attacked. He finished around the rim. He made tough shots, a necessary feat when a defense is as ferocious as the Sixers’.

“Even when he was cold in the first two games, you knew he was going to turn things around,” Anunoby said. “Just because we see it every day, it would eventually change.”

Barely two seasons into his time with the Knicks, Brunson is already in the franchise’s record books. He moved within one point of Carmelo Anthony’s single-game scoring record during a 61-point outburst against the San Antonio Spurs earlier this season. Now he’s overtaking playoff players.

His score of 47 points surpasses the previous franchise record, a four-decade-old benchmark by Hall of Famer Bernard King, who lost 46 twice in the same 1984 series.

That’s no surprise, even considering how one of the stingiest defenses in the league swarmed a guy who might not be too small to be a 1A. Brunson’s defining trait this season has been how he reacts to his struggles. Opponents can surprise him with an endlessly long defender or an aggressive strategy. But eventually – usually for one match, although in this case it took two – he will find cover and overcome it.

On Sunday, he reminded the world of a trend he proved time and time again during the regular season. Even when there seems to be no room, just like the great explorers before his time, from Magellan to Polo to Neil Armstrong, he will find space.

(Photo: Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images)

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