Jalen Brunson’s 42-point night powers Knicks past Kings, 98-91

Once again, Jalen Brunson carried a Knicks team short on offensive threats, scoring 42 points, in New York’s 98-91 win over the Kings on Saturday night in Sacramento.

Outside of Brunson, the Knicks offense remains a question mark. But perhaps that is the thing with a Tom Thibodeau-coached team. The second option for the Knicks is holding their opponent down on the other end of the floor. And in a physical, rough-and-tumble night in which the officials decided to let them play, New York’s second option did enough to get the win, holding the Kings to just 35.3 percent from the floor (27 percent from three) as the visitors out-rebounded their foes 53-43, had 10 blocks and added eight steals.

Brunson, to his credit, carried the load with his second-straight 40-point night on 17-for-27 shooting (5-for-10 from three) with four rebounds, four steals and two assists (with six turnovers) in 36 minutes. And he had to do it all, as his teammates shot just 34 percent on 58 attempts from the floor and 20.7 percent from three in 29 attempts.

With the win, New York improved to 40-27 on the season to stay in the No. 4 seed in the Eastern Conference. Sacramento fell 38-28 and is just a half-game ahead of Dallas for the No. 7 spot in the West.

Here are the takeaways…

– With Julius Randle still sidelined, the question remains: Is there enough offense outside of Brunson? And, if not for Brunson who? Well, that’s a question for another night.

The Kings, aware of this lack of scoring, went to double Brunson on the first possession of the game, but the Knicks worked the ball around to find OG Anunoby, who was questionable to play as he works his way back to full fitness after elbow surgery, for a driving uncontested two-handed jam.

Through the game’s first 12 minutes, Brunson made three of the team’s nine field goals with non-Brunson Knicks shooting 6-for-16 and 1-for-9 from three.

Fortunately for the visitors, defense travels well. And with NBA referees seemingly letting more physicality go unpunished since the All-Star break, the Knicks had a further advantage and entered the second quarter down just 22-21 while holding Sacramento to 8-for-20 shooting (2-for-8 from three) with five turnovers.

– In the second, Alec Burks knocked down a pair of threes, something the Knicks desperately needed. He entered Saturday’s games struggling through his first 14 games after arriving in a trade with the Pistons, shooting just 28.1 percent from three after shooting 40.1 percent in 43 games with Detroit. Burks had 12 points off the bench on 4-of-10 shooting (2-for-5 from three) in the win.

But the Knicks still needed Brunson to take over, and he did with a 7-0 run by himself midway through the second to grab a 36-33 lead. The guard scored 15 points in the second quarter on 6 of 7 shooting (3 of 4 from three) and the Knicks took a 53-48 lead into the halftime interval.

The non-Brunson Knicks shot 6-for-14 in the frame but held Sacramento to 8-for-21 (38.19 percent) from the floor.

– The third quarter began with Brunson (who else?) taking a circuitous route to the basket for a left-handed layup before grabbing a steal and scoring for a nine-point lead forcing a Kings timeout and a 57-48 lead.

But the nine-point lead would slip away as the Knicks’ offense went completely off the boil amid a 17-6 Kings ‘run’ over 7:40 of play. Brunson would answer with five points, giving him 33 of New York’s 68 points.

In the third, Brunson was 5-for-9 from the floor as the rest of the squad was 3-for-14.

– The Knicks’ second unit, which had looked discombobulated during the second half after committing their second 24-second violation, put together a 9-0 run for a five-point advantage with under seven to play.

Five of those points came from Bojan Bogdanovic, who, like Burks, has struggled shooting after arriving in the trade with Detroit. He finished the game 4-for-12 from the floor (2-for-5 from three) for nine points in 24 minutes off the bench. The Croatian added five rebounds and an assist while committing three turnovers and was a plus-7.

After a series of missed shots down the stretch, the Knicks were up three and had the ball in Brunson’s hands. And the guard, who missed three straight buckets himself, got the driving layup with 37 seconds to play to put New York up five points before sealing it from the line moments later.

The Knicks would make just eight shots in the fourth (with Brunson contributing three), but the defense would hold the Kings to 6-for-26 shooting and outscore their hosts 23-17.

– Missing Mitchell Robinson and Randle, the Knicks had a tough time with the Kings’ six-foot-10 big man Domantas Sabonis. The Lithuanian got some preferable matchups against Anunoby and Precious Achiuwa, scoring 18 in the first half on 8-for-11 from the field. But the screws tightened after the break as Sabonis finished with just 21 points while going 1-for-5 from the floor in the second half.

Donte DiVincenzo, who like Anunoby sat for the majority of the fourth quarter in favor of Bogdanovic and Burks, finished with 15 points on 5-for-16 shooting (3-for-12 from three) with two assists and two rebounds. He was a minus-6 in 30 minutes.

Josh Hart had nine points on 2-for-7 shooting but added 13 rebounds and countless hustle plays. Isaiah Hartenstein made all three of his attempts for seven points while adding 14 rebounds and leading the team with five blocks. Anunoby struggled mightily in 33 minutes making just the dunk to open the game and missing his other seven shots (including four threes).


What’s Next…

The Knicks stay in NorCal as they take on the Golden State Warriors on Monday night, with tip-off scheduled for 10 p.m. New York time.

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