Jalen Brunson is on a postseason roll not seen since Michael Jordan as the Knicks go for a 2-0 lead

Updated May. 7, 2024 8:23 p.m. ET

GREENBURGH, N.Y. (AP) — Jalen Brunson's shot at stardom was clear to Tom Thibodeau when he was in high school. Donte DiVincenzo saw it as soon as they became teammates in college.

Rick Carlisle witnessed it as Brunson's first professional coach — and now has to figure out how to slow down a player on the longest scoring roll in the postseason since Michael Jordan three decades ago.

Brunson will try to help the New York Knicks take a 2-0 lead in the Eastern Conference semifinals over the Indiana Pacers on Wednesday in the only game on the NBA schedule.

Brunson scored 43 points on Monday in the Knicks' 121-117 victory in Game 1. He has scored 40 or more in four straight games, the first player to do that in the postseason since Jordan in the 1993 NBA Finals, and is just the fourth player ever to do that.


Yet he insists he never goes into a game thinking about how much he needs to score, even on a Knicks team missing points from injured fellow All-Star Julius Randle.

“I think, what can you do, how can we be aggressive, how can we attack and where can we get the best advantage for our team,” Brunson said Tuesday. “And it has nothing to do with me saying I need to hit this amount of points, I need to hit this amount of shots. It’s just, I’m reading how the game is being played and that’s just my mindset and that’s how it always has been.”

Thibodeau first noticed it watching Brunson grow up, particularly when he became a high school star in Illinois while Thibodeau was coaching the Chicago Bulls. He has always been impressed by the way Brunson was never satisfied — and still isn't — and cares far more about team success than any individual accolades.

“I think that that’s what makes him who he is,” Thibodeau said. “And right now this is what we need for us to win.”

Brunson has followed his first All-Star season by leading all players in postseason scoring with 36.6 points per game. The second-round pick in the 2018 draft had some big games in his first three seasons playing for Dallas, but as Carlisle noted, the Mavericks were Luka Doncic's team.

The Knicks signed Brunson in July 2022, and he has led them to two straight trips to the East semifinals after they hadn't won a playoff series since 2013.

“So when he came here, it was pretty clear right off the bat that Thibs just said, ‘Hey, this is your thing,’ and when you give a strong-willed guy like that the green light — because Jalen, as aggressive a scorer as he is, is one of the great team guys I’ve ever been around in this league, or any sport at any level,” Carlisle said. "I mean, he’s just really exceptional.

“Amazing things can happen for your team and a lot of bad things can happen for opponents. So hats off to New York for being able to sign him and he’s been historically great here.”

Tyrese Haliburton, the other All-Star point guard in the series, wasn't great in Game 1. The NBA's assists leader in the regular season, who has been bothered by back spasms, was limited to six points and eight assists for Indiana.

“We were playing ahead in Game 1 and feel like we should’ve won that game,” Haliburton said, “but at the end of the day it starts with me, and I’ll be better in Game 2.”

Brunson has the same expectation.

DiVincenzo saw how much Brunson prepares while they were teammates for two NCAA championships at Villanova, and how he's able to solve opponents as games go on.

In Game 1, that meant passing to DiVincenzo for the tiebreaking 3-pointer with 40 seconds left, just as Brunson called someone else's number for the decisive shot in the first round when he passed to Josh Hart for a tiebreaking 3 with 25 seconds left in Game 6 against Philadelphia.

“He studies the game, he knows how teams are going to adjust and he continues to make adjustments himself,” DiVincenzo said while sitting next to Brunson for their Game 1 news conference. "He finds different ways to be successful.

“He’s always had this, it’s just now you guys are seeing it on this stage.”


Knicks lead, 1-0. Game 2, 8 p.m. EDT, TNT

— NEED TO KNOW: The postseason record for consecutive 40-point games is held by Jerry West, who had six in a row in 1965. Bernard King, a Hall of Famer who played for the Knicks, also did it four straight times in 1984.

Speaking of playoff scoring, Reggie Miller will be part of the crew calling the game for TNT. Tuesday was the 29th anniversary of Miller scoring eight points in nine seconds to rally the Pacers past the Knicks in Game 1 of the 1995 East semifinals.

— KEEP AN EYE ON: The Knicks' bench, to see how often Thibodeau sends someone off it into the game. Indiana had a 46-3 edge in points from its reserves, led by T.J. McConnell (18) and Obi Toppin (12). Mitchell Robinson, Deuce McBride and Precious Achiuwa were so ineffective in their minutes that Thibodeau was forced to play Hart all 48, DiVincenzo and Brunson nearly 44 and OG Anunoby 42.

— INJURY WATCH: The Knicks ruled Robinson out for left ankle injury management. After having surgery during the season, he was injured again in the first round and missed a game against Philadelphia.

Haliburton is listed as questionable again with lower back spasms. He had no points or assists with three turnovers in the fourth quarter.

“There were too many turnovers down the stretch for me and I have to be better,” he said.

— PRESSURE IS ON: The Pacers, to defend Brunson without fouling. They sent him to the line for 14 shots in Game 1 and he made all of them.

“Look, he’s really a great scorer, there’s no question about that,” Carlisle said. “But situations where we’re using our hands and we’re reaching and fouling, we’ve got to look at that and see what’s avoidable.”


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