When the All-NBA teams were announced Wednesday, Jalen Brunson’s name was conspicuously missing. Point guard is a deep position, but Brunson has been one of the NBA’s hottest scorers this season.
On the 50th anniversary of the night, Clyde Frazier played 48 minutes in Game 5 of the 1973 NBA Finals to clinch the New York Knicks’ most recent championship, Brunson’s 38 points were New York’s knight in shining armor. Playing 48 minutes is a closeout move. Last May, Jimmy Butler tirelessly played all 48 in an Eastern Conference Finals Game 7 against Boston. Brunson’s fight-or-flight instincts kicked in during Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semifinals. He fought and now the Knicks get to fly to humid South Beach for a Game 6 appearance before firing squad.
Jalen Brunson elevates his standing
What did Brunson’s 38 points in 48 get them? No matter what happens, this is a successful postseason. Brunson has significantly elevated his standing among point guards since the year began and made the Knicks more palatable to free agents.
Backed into a corner, the Knicks scratched and clawed. If you’d told me that Tom Thibodeau would play his starting point guard for an entire game in an elimination game, I probably would have asked why he wasn’t doing that from the beginning.
Miami still has the high ground leading 3-2 heading back to FTX-American Airlines-Kaseya Arena. The Heat rallied late after trailing by as much as 18, but how much longer can Brunson keep this up? He’s played 92 minutes in his past two games and been the primary offensive generator, scoring 70 points, and dishing 18 helpers in an offense that relies on tough shots and unassisted jumpers.
That depends on how Brunson’s body responds to playing Friday night on the road with a 48-hour turnaround. Callous as it may sound, history doesn’t commemorate stars for second-round season-extending games. New Yorkers are starving for NBA relevancy and Brunson has given them oxygen for another day. But they won’t be telling future generations about the time Brunson scored 38 in 48 unless he can get this to a Game 7?
Brunson will need help from Julius Randle, others
It can’t be all on Brunson. Julius Randle needs a seminal Knick playoff performance. In 14 playoff games, all as a Knick, Randle has averaged only 17 points on 35 percent shooting and nine boards.
His hustle has been questioned, his leadership has been derided, and he was a bigger fraud than George Santos in his first season after earning an extension, it can be hard to tell whether he’d constipated or annoyed when the Knicks are in a rut, but he delivered a premium performance Game 5. It wasn’t memorable, but it also wasn’t detrimental to the cause. Randle isn’t the co-star who’ll raise Brunson and RJ Barrett on his shoulders, but he’s been hitting par in this series.
Randle’s played up to expectations in half of the series against Miami since missing Game 1. And his Game 2 stinker has been overrepresented as a sample size of his nightly contributions in this series. This Heat series has been his peak as a Knick. But it can’t be his summit.
Monday night was the rare night in this postseason where all three ignited at once. Brunson has been the tangible superstar Randle was in theory to be while Barrett has emerged as a productive wingman when he’s hitting on all cylinders. The Knicks coalesced for one night behind Brunson, but it’s not time to rest on their laurels. Jimmy Butler is a shark heading back to his home waters. New York will need all their strength to prevent Butler from dragging them under.
Follow DJ Dunson on Twitter: @cerebralsportex