Bruised and Battered Knicks—and Jalen Brunson— Have a Bright Future Despite Second-Round Exit

Giants fans don’t root for the Jets. Yankees fans don’t respect the Mets. Rangers fans don’t acknowledge the Islanders. New York is a divided sports town – except when it comes to basketball. The Knicks run 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 got to town.

Eyebrows raised across all five boroughs when the Knicks offered Brunson – a 6’1 point guard with 127 starts in the first four years of his career – a four-year, $104 million contract in 2022, especially considering his dad Rick had just gotten hired as an assistant coach. A little success came early, as Jalen and Julius Randle co-engineered a first-round upset of the Cavaliers in year one. This season, already one of the best in the last 20 years of Knicks history, has really shown return on investment.

New York really shouldn’t have made it this far, seeing as its injury report is longer than a CVS receipt. Of the starting lineup on opening day, only Brunson remained by Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals. Julius Randle suffered a season-ending shoulder injury. Mitchell Robinson suffered a season-ending stress fracture in his foot. Trade acquisitions Bojan Bogdanovic needed 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 in the summer. Instead, all were thrust into starting roles, all playing more than 35 minutes a game this postseason.

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

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

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

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

It’s fitting that the Knicks’ home arena, Madison Square Garden, earned its nickname “the Mecca” by hosting some of the most iconic college basketball games in the sport’s history, came to life this NBA postseason. College basketball championships are now played in football stadiums, so the newly-dubbed “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 prowled the courtside seats alongside luminaries like Ben Stiller, Chris Rock Jon Stewart, Steve Schirripa, Spike Lee and Fat Joe. The energy in the building was palpable, even 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 consecutive appearances in the second round – the future is too.

Updated: May 20, 2024 — 9:03 pm