Tom Thibodeau Offers Praise to Jalen Brunson as Knicks Stay Alive

Jalen Brunson, New York Knicks

Getty NEW YORK, NEW YORK - Jalen Brunson #11 of the New York Knicks dribbles against Jimmy Butler #22, Caleb Martin #16 and Kyle Lowry #7 of the Miami Heat.

There were plenty of heroes for the New York Knicks in Game 5 to stay alive, but none bigger than Jalen Brunson.

Brunson had a near triple-double in a no-relief job that galvanized the Knicks to fend off the Miami Heat in a pulsating 112-103 win on Wednesday night at a sold-out Madison Square Garden.

“What can you say about the guy? He’s just incredible,” New York coach Tom Thibodeau told reporters when asked about Brunson. “He’s an all-around player, great leader, great toughness, mental toughness, physical toughness, the ability to think on his feet, the ability to lead, the ability to connect with people, to bring the best out of people. That’s what makes him special. It’s play after play.”

Brunson made the right plays every time the Heat threatened. He scored 10 points in the fourth quarter, and his last three — a pull-up jumper and a charity split — gave the Knicks a five-point cushion after the Heat cut a 19-point deficit to four several times and two inside the final three minutes.

Brunson finished with 38 points, nine rebounds and seven assists against only one turnover in 48 minutes to add to his growing ledger of legendary playoff performances. He and Quentin Grimes became the first pair of Knicks players who played 48 minutes in a playoff game since Walt “Clyde” Frazier and Jerry Lucas did it in 1972 against the Boston Celtics.

“If he needed a blow, he would have told me,” Thibodeau said of Brunson. “At this time of the year, you’re gonna see guys get big minutes. He conditions himself. The thing I love about him is you prepare yourself for that. So I’ve never seen anyone work the way he does.”

“And he does it in front of everyone,” Thibodeau added. “He does it in our gym, does it all summer long. He does it at game speed. He never has to adjust in a game because of the way he prepares himself. He conditions himself to play big minutes. Just a tremendous leader.”

Plenty of Heroes Step Up for Knicks

Brunson drew plenty of support from Grimes to his co-stars Julius Randle and RJ Barrett and their big men Mitchell Robinson and Isaiah Hartenstein.

Forced to play the whole game with Josh Hart in foul trouble, Grimes had a key steal and a crucial rebound down the stretch, even after he hyper-extended his knee. He stuffed the stats sheet with eight points, four rebounds, five assists, two steals and two blocks.

Randle and Barrett combined for 50 points on 15-of-30 shooting night. Robinson canned pressure-packed free throws to a loud ovation that stifled the Heat’s “Hack-a-Mitch” ploy. He pulled down 11 rebounds and swiped the ball twice on top of eight points on a 4-of-8 trip at the free-throw line.

Hartenstein had a clutch putback off a Barrett missed a runner with 2:07 left for a Knicks’ four-point lead.

Knicks Played With a Sense of Urgency

After losing the rebounding battle in both games in Miami, the Knicks bounced back big at home, saving their season.

They outrebounded the Heat in Game 5 by a wide margin, 50-34, and checked the Heat shooters for the most part. Miami was 8-for-31 in the first three quarters before hitting five in the fourth quarter. They wound up shooting 13-for-43 from behind the arc, way below their 37.5% mark in the playoffs. The Heat ranked 27th in the regular season in 3-point accuracy at 34.4%.

Game 6 is on Friday in Miami.