Tom Thibodeau was close to the person Jalen Brunson, having known him since childhood. As a player, he’d only watched him from afar, first in high school, then in college, and later in the NBA.
But almost immediately after Brunson agreed to join the Knicks, his new coach had a good idea of why Brunson would be so valuable as his new point guard.
“I’ll be honest with you, when we first signed him he came straight away in the summer and I knew straight away just from what he was doing,” said Thibodeau. “Not by what he said. Nothing different than the way he came in and the way he worked every day. I knew this is exactly what we need.”
Through the first 31 games of the season — in good times and bad when he’s less than 100 percent when games are at stake — it’s clear what the addition of Brunson has meant for the Knicks. After Brunson signed that four-year, $104 million deal to leave the Mavericks, there was a narrative that he was overpaid. So far it has been the other way around.
His brilliant first season as the Knick continued Tuesday in the form of a 22-point, five-assist, no-turnover masterpiece that led the Knicks to a 132-94 blowout against the defending champion Warriors and extended their NBA-leading winning streak to eight. For the first time in nine games at the Garden, the Knicks beat the Warriors. This time they had star point guard on their side as Golden State was without Stephen Curry due to a left shoulder injury and they treated the Warriors like a sparring partner instead of the other way around.
Brunson set the tone – with his goal in the first half and his pass after the break. He had plenty of help, four teammates in double figures. Immanuel Quickley recovered from a shootout, hitting five 3-pointers for 22 points, Quentin Grimes had 19 points as he continued his impressive game, and RJ Barrett contributed 18 points and five assists. Julius Randle was another strong inside team with 15 points, 12 rebounds and five assists. Jordan Poole led the Warriors (15-17) with 26 points.
After averaging over 27 points in the last 3-0 away game, Brunson picked up where he left off. He scored 16 points on various middle-class jumpers in the first half and put on a 9-0 personal run in the second quarter that gave the Knicks their biggest first-half lead, 57-43.
The ball moved well in the first half, the Knicks amassed 15 assists from 24 field goals and shot 52.2 percent from the field. They hit 10 of their 19 3-point attempts, three each from Grimes and Quickley, and dominated on the glass with a 22-14 advantage. The lead was 13 at the break and really could have been bigger if the Warriors hadn’t shot so well from deep and made eight of 21 attempts.
Towards the end of the first half there was a scare that stopped the positive mood for a moment. Grimes landed on Warriors guard Ty Jerome’s foot and appeared to twist his right ankle. Jerome was rated Flagrant 1. Grimes hit two free throws, went out of play but started the second half.
Brunson used the pass instead of the shot in the third quarter, accumulating four assists early in the period as the Knicks threatened to drive the Warriors off the Garden Floor. After hitting a jumper, Brunson set up a Grimes 3 pointer and Barrett set up on back-to-back possessions for a 16-6 run that took the Knicks’ lead to a then-high game level of 21. From there, he nearly doubled, ending with a 38-point win.