After a hard-fought playoff run carrying the New York Knicks on his back, rising star Jalen Brunson managed to exceed expectations – and obtain such high respect and admiration from coach Erik Spoelstra.
Following the Miami Heat’s six-game triumph over the Knicks on Friday, Spoelstra handed Brunson his well deserved flowers for spearheading New York to a season of revelation and a Conference Semis finish.
“How’s that dude not an All-Star or All-NBA?,” Spoelstra said of Brunson in postgame. ” … He should be on one of those teams. I wish he were still out West. Man, you gotta respect him as a competitor.
“He’s got an iron will. … He’s just an incredible competitor.”
Brunson, who served as the prized free-agent acquisition of the Knicks last summer after a four-year partnership with Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks, embraced the bright lights of New York and ran the franchise’s dazzling show this season, helping them to lock the fifth-seed of the Eastern Conference. A finalist for this year’s Most Improved Player, he averaged 24.0 points, 6.2 assists and 3.5 boards while shooting 49.1 percent from the field.
He served as the Knicks’ driving force on their postseason exploits this year, as the club took down the Cleveland Cavaliers in first-round and dragged the battle-tested Heat to six games the following round. This Game 6 against Miami, he willed New York to a major losing effort, detonating for 41 points (14-22 shooting) to go with four boards and three assists in 45 minutes of play.
With his performance and huge lift for the Knicks, Brunson became the fourth player in NBA history to make more field goals than the rest of the team combined when facing elimination, joining LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Penny Hardaway.
We came in with some different ideas trying to get ball out of his hands,” Spoelstra said about his team’s collective effort of containing Brunson. “[He] fade out and then he went to a different thing.”
“That’s what great players do.”