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Jalen Brunson: Knicks “have to be one percent, two percent better” to win at MSG

“It’s frustrating. We want to win at home.” We feel you, Brunson.

Toronto Raptors v New York Knicks Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

It was the moment we had all been waiting for. After putting three wins together starting last Wednesday, the New York Knicks (25-20) finally lost a game on Monday against the visiting Toronto Raptors, 123–121 in OT at MSG.

MLK Day (Jan. 16) is a federal holiday in the United States but not in Canada, which might explain why Toronto went to work in the bonus period while New York decided not to. Or it might explain why the refs decided to side with the Raptors on some dubious calls along the way, perhaps to make them feel good even though not having a day off north of the border.

Whatever the case, Toronto escaped the ax.

After yesterday’s game, the Knicks still sit sixth in the East though they dropped under .500 at home, currently at 11-12, and as the only team in the NBA with a winning record overall but a losing home at home.

“It’s frustrating. Obviously, we want to win at home,” Jalen Brunson said. “We have one of the best fan bases in the world, but this is obviously a historic place to play, so everybody’s coming here with their best foot forward.”

Brunson entered Monday’s game as the reigning Eastern Conference Player of the Week, scored 26 points at MSG, and became the first Knicks’ guard since Walt Frazier in 1971 to score 25+ points in seven consecutive games. No guard in the history of the franchise has ever done it eight times in a row, so Brunson will have a chance to write his name in golden ink next Wednesday when New York host the Wizards in NYC.

“I think, for us, we just got to focus on the little things. A lot of these losses come [down to] one or two possessions. We have to be one percent, two percent better,” added Brunson.

With 9:04 left in the final period, the Knicks were leading the game by 10 points. The gap was still at nine points with only 5:39 to go. The difference shrunk to a bucket with 2:03 left and Toronto took the lead by way of a Scottie Barnes freebie with just 1:01 minutes remaining in regulation.

The lead will flip one way and the other multiple times in those 61 seconds, but it was RJ Barrett who would drop the monster hammer with 0.1 left to send the game to overtime.

“We were down two, there were six, seven seconds left, I knew I could go to the basket. So I tried to do that,” Barrett said. “I saw Scottie was there, so I knew if I passed him that I would have a wide-open layup, or they would’ve all come in and we would have an open three.”

“The win would have been the most special thing,” acknowledged an upset Barrett after that.

RJ Barrett, playing against the only Canadian team in the Association, was good for 32 points on 49 minutes and 23 shot attempts. He went to the line 11 times hitting 10 of those freebies. New York visited the charity stripe 35 times compared to Toronto’s 41 trips, though Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau wasn’t pleased with the officiating.

“I don’t really care if a game’s called tight or if it’s called loose. I just want consistency. That’s what I look for,” Thibodeau said. “It was physical. It was. There was a lot going on. And so again, I wanna watch to make sure I saw what I thought I saw.”

The free-throw attempt difference between both teams, though, only amounted to six shots. Julius Randle seemed to agree with that fact, saying that ”a six free-throw difference is not too crazy.”

Randle completed an all-around performance scoring 21 points, grabbing 15 rebounds, and dishing out eight dimes. All other Knicks combined for just nine assists with none of them getting more than two.

Things went better on the glass, with Mitchell Robinson (11 points) pulling down eight rebounds along with three other New York players grabbing seven and Isaiah Hartenstein snatching five. New York edged Toronto 54-42 on the boards, but they still allowed the Raptors to grab 14 offensive rebounds, with Barrett clearly overmatched by the bigger Scottie Barnes.

“It’s a tough one,” Barrett said. “We were down in the first half, fought all the way back and they were winning most of the second half. Then we fought back. It was such an up-and-down game. You want to come out with a win.”

Brunson was the man tasked with trying to earn the Knicks their fourth consecutive win, but he missed the final three.

Coach Thibodeau wasn’t mad at the miss, though. “[Brunson] was in the open floor. The defender was backpedaling. He’s a 39-percent three-point shooter,” he said. Brunson explained it, reasoning that he “just [took] what the defense gave me,“ and detailing that he “saw [his defender] backing up, I saw the time, and it’s a shot I work on all the time. I thought it was good.”

It wasn’t meant to be. Perhaps, that shot should have never actually happened.

”I don’t know [if they missed the call]. You guys saw. Write what you see.” Thibodeau said. Brunson himself said that “I think it was Scottie [Barnes] that bumped me into [VanVleet]. They felt otherwise, and that was that.”

Both men were describing a questionable early-OT personal foul called on Brunson over Fred VanVleet with the Knicks down one. It looked like Barnes pushed Brunson into FVV, but that wasn’t what those refereeing the game appreciated.

Also, for those worried about watching Barrett logging 49 minutes, the wing said he “feels his conditioning is improving” after spending two weeks off the court. Brunson commented on it saying that Barrett “has worked really hard to get back and try to get back into the rhythm,” claiming that “he’s back, he’s back.”

Brunson, who got 43 minutes of run himself, added that he likes “being able to give it my all whenever I’m on the court,” saying also that “if I look tired, if I look like I’m dragging, I think Thibs know when to take me out. But I’m comfortable with whatever the team needs, whatever the case may be.”

”I’ve been good in my life with adapting, so I just adapt to whatever is necessary,” Brunson finished.

The Knicks stay home to try and improve to a .500 record on games played at MSG next Wednesday as New York will be hosting Washington (18-26) after having defeated the Wizards as recently as last Friday in D.C.