Knicks’ Jalen Brunson is shredding postseason defenses: ‘He’s not satisfied’

It was Jalen Brunson’s moment. Donte DiVincenzo would make sure of that.

Both New York Knicks sat in front of reporters after Brunson’s Game 1 explosion against the Indiana Pacers, a 43-point performance that has become commonplace for the All-Star point guard. These days, a Brunson scoring blast is about as rare as a broken blood vessel by Tom Thibodeau.

Brunson has now scored 40 points in four straight playoff games. The only other players in league history to accomplish the same feat are Jerry West, who had a six-game streak, Michael Jordan (four) and Bernard King (four).

As a reporter listed Brunson’s impressive business, DiVincenzo noticed one and interrupted.

“Michael Jordan,” he said excitedly, turning to Brunson as a wide smile took over his cheeks.

Brunson looked at his buddy as if DiVincenzo was teasing him about a missed 0-for-20.

“If you know my friends,” Brunson said the next day, “you should know that they are all…. … Usually they’re all sarcastic and so I just tried to stop him before he continued.

Best friends only show kindness behind each other’s backs. And behind Brunson is a sanctuary of accomplishments that excite DiVincenzo more and more by the second.

Brunson is the first player in NBA history with 40 points and five assists in four consecutive playoff games. He is only the second player in history, behind West, to win five consecutive playoff games with more than 39 players.

He is averaging 36.6 points in the playoffs, leading the NBA, with 8.6 assists. The only player to have those numbers in the playoffs was Russell Westbrook, who did it in 2016-17 with much less efficient shooting and in just five games, four of which his team lost.

“I’m so proud of him, knowing what type of person he is,” DiVincenzo said of Brunson. “He doesn’t accept praise and accolades and all that. He doesn’t take it well. He’s always trying to improve. He always knows there will be more skeptics, more things to improve. It’s his beauty as a person.

The Pacers, who trail the Knicks 1-0 in their second-round series, are witnessing the beauty of basketball.

Indiana threw various defenders at Brunson in the first game, a 121-117 victory at New York. The long, physical Aaron Nesmith kept him busy to start. Andrew Nembhard, a hard-nosed goalkeeper, took over later. Point guard TJ McConnell, who Josh Hart so affectionately called a “boring little s—” earlier this week, also faced Brunson.

None of this led to much success.

Brunson’s 43 points came on 14-of-26 shooting; he sank all 14 of his free throws. The Pacers were one of the worst offenders during the regular season. It showed.

These are the types of shots the Knicks can expect from Brunson in this series. Indiana defenders notoriously stick to potential shooters lining the perimeter. He prevents 3-point attempts, which the Pacers rarely give up on. And that funnels Drivers to center Myles Turner, one of the best rim protectors in the league. But it also leaves the middle open.

No one allowed more shots in the paint during the regular season than Indiana. The trend continued in the first match, including for Brunson. Fifteen of his shots were inside the paint, many of them in the floating zone that Brunson can feast on while neutralizing Turner’s shot blocking.

Brunson may have gotten hot in the previous series when the Knicks beat the Philadelphia 76ers in six games, but it wasn’t because Philly gave him the middle.

The Sixers surrounded him with long defenders, many of whom collapsed on him every time he approached the hoop. Eventually he figured it out, putting up 39 points in Game 3, 47 in Game 4, 40 in Game 5, and 41 in the deciding Game 6.

Few people have reached those numbers – not that Brunson would brag about himself, any more than his friends would to his face.

“I understand what’s going on, so it’s obviously pretty cool, and it’s better to know that the most important thing is to know that it happens after a win, but honestly, whatever the situation is, that it Whether positive or negative, I have to come back and be better,” Brunson said. “The last series, the first two games, I was horrible, and for me, I have to be better, so I have to keep that in one. corner of my mind. It’s the same thing.”

The Pacers trapped Brunson in moments, but he quickly got rid of the ball. They pressured all over the court, which is what the Knicks expected, especially since Indiana did the same against the Milwaukee Bucks in the first round. The strategy is an attempt to tire out Brunson while bogging down the Knicks’ offense. If it takes New York a few extra seconds to initiate its first action, it will have less chance of scoring.

Yet Brunson was unable to pull the Pacers apart in Game 1 despite his team’s success.

The Knicks shot 53.7 percent from the field and 11 of 23 from 3. They gave up 121 points on just 98 possessions, an elite number.

“What’s impressive is always in the context of winning and his teammates and that’s always the most important thing for him,” Thibodeau said. “And I like his mentality because his mentality is that he’s not satisfied.”

And now he appears on lists with Michael Jordan — even though he doesn’t recognize the accomplishment and even though he fears his friends will use it as pure fuel for mockery.

“He knows what he’s doing but he doesn’t talk about it. He’s just trying to get better every day,” DiVincenzo said. “Not being him and looking outside, I love that. I really love it. I will celebrate every day of the week. It’s who he is as a person, not just a basketball player.

(Top photo: Sarah Stier/Getty Images)

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