“We haven’t really talked about the game or playing against each other, but we talk every now and then, always try to check up on each other,” Brunson told The Athletic ahead of Saturday’s game. “I just know he’s a competitor. Everyone obviously knows what he’s capable of. … Obviously, when we’re playing and we aren’t teammates, we aren’t friends, but off the court, it’s (a) special (relationship).”
The Mavericks hold the New York Knicks‘ numbers since Brunson left them for a four-year, $104 million deal in last year’s free agency.
The first time they met as on-court rivals, Dončić dropped 30 points, eight rebounds and seven assists on Brunson, who was limited to only 13 and three assists in a Mavericks’ 121-110 rout of the Knicks at Madison Square Garden last Dec. 3, 2022.
Three weeks later, the Mavericks repeated over the Knicks in a magical 126-121 comeback win in overtime on the back of Doncic’s historic 60-point triple-double in Dallas as Brunson helplessly watched on the bench with an injury.
As they cross paths again on opposite sides on Saturday, albeit a non-bearing game, Brunson reflected on his relationship with his former teammate.
“That’s my brother,” Brunson told The Athletic of Dončić. “We got drafted together. I’ve been watching him grow since meeting him for the first time, seeing the player he is now. He’s gotten better and better each year to the point where he’s a top-five player, an MVP candidate, year in and year out, so whenever I get a chance to share the court with him, either with him or against him, it’s always been special. I’ve got nothing but love for him.”
Steve Kerr Leans on Jalen Brunson as Team USA Leader
“He’s a natural leader,” Kerr told The Athletic. “He’s one of the first guys we secured on the roster, so we had a conversation a while back, talking about this team and then checking on him as we built the rest of the team. I started making plans, and we had a couple of conversations and texts. He is a really easy guy to get to know, and because he’s the leader, it’s important for me to connect with him, too, because this is always a collaboration. But what makes it unique is it’s just six weeks. You go hard, and then it’s over, so you try to get to know the guys as best you can.”
Brunson quickly repaid Kerr’s trust when he logged in a double-double (11 points and game-high 12 rebounds) to go with three assists, one steal and a block to fuel Team USA’s 117-74 rout of Puerto Rico after a slow start.
Brunson was a plus-23, next only to his backup Tyrese Haliburton‘s plus-24, in the plus-minus column. He is expected to lead the team anew against Dončić and Slovenia this Saturday.
Evan Fournier Suffers Ankle Injury
He was a late scratch for the tune-up match. But the French Basketball Federation labeled Fournier’s injury as minor, which he suffered during their 86-67 victory over Venezuela last Monday.
Fournier’s injury was a crushing blow to his bid to rebuild his value after he was dropped from the Knicks rotation last season.
The 30-year-old French guard was coming off back-to-back solid games — 20 points, four rebounds and two assists in France’s 80-69 win over Montenegro last week before producing 13 points, five rebounds and four assists against Venezuela.
Fournier is banking on a stellar run with France to expedite his departure from New York.