Knicks’ Jalen Brunson destroys postseason defense: ‘He’s not happy’

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

The two New York Knicks sat before reporters after Brunson’s Game 1 blowout against the Indiana Pacers, a 43-point performance that has become commonplace for the All-Star point guard. These days, a Brunson goal is about as rare as a broken blood vessel from Tom Thibodeau.

Brunson has now recorded 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 losing streak, Michael Jordan (four) and Bernard King (four).

As a reporter listed Brunson’s impressive company, DiVincenzo noticed a standout and interrupted him.

“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 with an 0-of-20 dud.

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

The best friends only show kindness behind each other’s backs. And behind Brunson stands a shrine of achievement that excites 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 man ever, behind only West, with five consecutive playoff games of 39-plus.

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

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“I’m so proud of him because I know what kind of person he is,” DiVincenzo said of Brunson. “He doesn’t accept praise and accolades and things like that. He doesn’t take it well. He’s always trying to get better. He always knows there will be more doubters, more things to improve. That is his beauty as a person.”

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

Indiana threw several defenders at Brunson in Game 1, a 121-117 win in New York. Tall, physical Aaron Nesmith manned him to start. Andrew Nembhard, a tough guard, took over later. Point guard TJ McConnell, who affectionately called Josh Hart “a nasty little s—” earlier this week, also took aim at Brunson.

None of this led to much success.

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

These are the types of shots the Knicks can expect from Brunson in this series. Indiana defenders are known for sticking to potential shooters lined up on the perimeter. It prevents three-point attempts, which the Pacers rarely give up. And it leads 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 than Indiana during the regular season. The trend continued in Game 1, including for Brunson. Fifteen of his shots were in the paint, many in floater range for Brunson to feast on while neutralizing Turner’s shot blocking.

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Brunson may have become popular last series when the Knicks defeated the Philadelphia 76ers in six games, but it wasn’t because Philly gave him center stage.

The Sixers surrounded him with tall defenders, many of whom collapsed on him as he approached the hoop. He eventually figured it out, going for 39 points in Game 3, 47 in Game 4, 40 in Game 5 and 41 in the decisive Game 6.

Few people have achieved these 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 definitely pretty cool, and it makes it better to know that it comes from a win more than anything, but honestly, whatever the situation was, whether it was positive or negative , I have to come back and get better,” Brunson said. “The last series, the first two games, I was terrible, and for me I have to be better, so I have to keep that in mind. This is the same.”

The Pacers pinned Brunson within moments, but he was quick to get rid of the ball. They put pressure on him, which the Knicks expected, especially since Indiana did the same against the Milwaukee Bucks in Round 1. The strategy is an attempt to tire Brunson while bogging down the Knicks’ offense. If New York takes a few extra seconds to get into its first play, it’s not very likely to score.

Still, Brunson didn’t take the Pacers apart in Game 1, despite his team’s success.

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

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

And now he’s appearing on lists with Michael Jordan — even if he doesn’t want to acknowledge the achievement and even if he fears his friends will use it as pure fuel.

“He knows what he’s doing, but he doesn’t go into it. He just tries to get better every day,” DiVincenzo said. “Not being him and looking on the outside, I love it. I sure love it. I’m going to celebrate it every day of the week. That’s who he is as a person, not just as a basketball player.”

(Top photo: Sarah Stier / Getty Images)

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