Knicks’ Jalen Brunson using season-ending turnover as inspiration

Knicks’ Jalen Brunson using season-ending turnover as inspiration

GREENBURGH, N.Y. — Ahead of the Knicks’ playoff opener Saturday night at Madison Square Garden against the Philadelphia 76ers, star Jalen Brunson admitted he spent all summer thinking about his turnover in the closing moments of New York’s Game 6 loss to the Miami Heat last spring.

“A lot more than you would think,” Brunson said, when asked how much he has thought about that turnover, which came with under 20 seconds to go in the game and New York trailing by two.

Rather than getting up a potential game-tying — or go-ahead — shot, Brunson got stuck in a double-team on the baseline and wound up trying to force a pass to a cutting Julius Randle coming down the lane, which was stolen by Miami. And, instead of New York possibly sending the series back to The World’s Most Famous Arena for Game 7 and a chance to make a trip to the Eastern Conference finals, New York’s season ended.

“We are in a position where we could have forced the Game 7, and I made a terrible decision and I had to live with that throughout the whole summer,” Brunson said.

“When I’m working out, I’m focusing on whatever I’m doing at that time, but that moment creeps back in your mind. You see it all over social media … it’s impossible not to see things like that.”

It was a sour final note to a sensational first season in New York for Brunson, who signed with the Knicks as a free agent in the summer of 2022 and immediately turned in one of the best seasons by a Knicks point guard since Hall of Famer Walt Frazier was running New York’s two championship-winning teams a half-century ago.

And all Brunson has done as an encore is average 28.7 points and 6.7 assists for the Knicks this season, lifting them to the second seed in the Eastern Conference and earning himself his first All-Star appearance, as well as a potential first-team All-NBA selection and a spot on MVP ballots, which were officially submitted earlier this week.

But all of that came with the goal of getting back to the playoffs and writing a different outcome this time around in mind. As for the play itself, Josh Hart — Brunson’s close friend and teammate both now with New York and in college at Villanova — had his own thoughts about it and the hangover that naturally lingered along with it.

“The only time I talked about it was just to let him know that I was open at the top of the key,” Hart said with a smile. “Wide open.

“We’ve made jokes about it. Because the way my college career ended, I think I lost the ball or got stripped, and we lost, and that’s how my college career ended. He said he was open. And then last year, it was the other way around. So sometimes we talk about it, but that’s something I know he thinks about. Whenever you lose to a team, you think about everything. This summer, I know he thought about it. This summer, all I thought about was Miami … all we thought about this summer was, ‘What could we have done against Miami to move on?’

“That’s what we’ve got to fuel us to now in terms of what can we do, what can we do better against Philly to move on to the second round.”

The clash between the Knicks and 76ers is easily the marquee Eastern Conference series of the first round and might be the top one across the playoffs. Philadelphia enters the postseason with Joel Embiid back on the court and having won nine consecutive games after escaping from Wednesday’s seventh-place play-in game with the Heat with a come-from-behind 105-104 victory.

That win boosted Philadelphia’s record with Embiid available this season to 32-8, and the 76ers will be a formidable first-round opponent.

“It’s just another opportunity to compete and win,” Brunson said. “And I love to compete. I love to go out there and, and play with a group of guys who you work all year with, who you’ve had ups and downs with throughout the year, and just another opportunity to go out there and compete together.

“I just think when you’re in moments like that … why else do you work hard? Why else do you want to do things like this? You work for moments like these. Now it’s just time to go out there and just focus on Game 1 and see what we got.”

While the Knicks will have their entire roster healthy outside of Randle, who is out for the season with a shoulder injury, the 76ers will again be without guard De’Anthony Melton for Game 1. Melton, who’s been dealing with a back issue for the past few months and has played in only a handful of games since the start of 2024, didn’t practice Friday, and coach Nick Nurse ruled him out for Game 1, though added he wouldn’t rule Melton out for what Nurse expects will be a long series.

Nurse already has said forward Robert Covington won’t be returning this season, no matter how long it goes, from a bone bruise in his knee.

Embiid, meanwhile, practiced again Friday and is on track to once again be in the starting lineup Saturday night.

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