CHICAGO — Jalen Brunson went from a walking boot to carrying the Knicks to victory.
Three days after leaving a game with a contused foot that had Brunson in a walking boot, the Knicks point guard detonated the Bulls in crunch time of Wednesday’s 128-120 overtime victory.
Brunson finished with 30 points — including seven in overtime — and nailed Chicago’s coffin with a 3-pointer in the final 30 seconds. Brunson celebrated with a demonstrative gesture to friends in the crowd, as the Knicks (15-13) won their fifth straight in dramatic fashion.
“My high school coach and two best friends were sitting right there,” said Brunson, who grew up in the Chicago area.
Julius Randle again stuffed the box score but blew a victory in regulation. Leading by two, he was blocked by Nikola Vucevic in the paint with 28 seconds remaining. The loose ball allowed DeMar DeRozan to run the court in under four seconds and tie the game on a transition lay-up.
Then Randle went isolation for the potential game-winner, dribbling out the clock before throwing up an airball on a fadeaway. The sequence resulted in New York’s fourth overtime game of the season.
Luckily for Randle and the Knicks, Brunson strapped on his cape.
“He wants to win. It’s where his joy comes from. It’s the winning. If he scored two points and we won, he’d be thrilled,” coach Tom Thibodeau said. “That’s what I love about him. And he loves to win. He loves when his teammates do well. I think it’s been great for our team. I think it’s the best type of leadership that you can have.”
Brunson acknowledged having doubts about playing Wednesday, especially after he missed Tuesday’s practice with that foot injury. But the 26-year-old showed no signs of pain or hindrance while logging 39 minutes. His start ensured the Knicks Big 3 of Brunson, RJ Barrett and Randle have played in every game this season.
“I take a lot of pride in that,” Brunson said. “I don’t want to give anyone the notion that I’m healthy but I just want to take today off. Me as a leader, if I’m able to walk and I’m able to play I’ve got to bring it.”
The Knicks led by as many as 14 in the second quarter, but the Bulls chipped away and took their first advantage on Vucevic’s reverse lay-up with 4:16 left in the third quarter.
Then it became a dogfight until the final buzzer. Barrett contributed 22 points before fouling out in the fourth quarter. Quentin Grimes nailed three clutch 3-pointers down the stretch. Mitchell Robinson, playing through an illness, recorded a block and offensive rebound in OT that
The Knicks overcame 57 combined points from Chicago’s DeRozan and Zach LaVine. Their five-game winning streak is the most since the pandemic season.
“It’s big time,” Grimes said. “I feel like right now we’ve got a real good camaraderie about the team right now. Coming into every game we know what exactly we have to do, trusting the game plan, trusting the scouting report. We’re coming in with a different mindset than we were earlier, early on in the season. Right now we’re doing a really good job preparing ourselves for the game.”
Randle finished with 31 points, including 15 in the first quarter. He has scored at least 30 points in four of his last eight games. He’s averaging 28.6 points during the five-game winning streak.