“Horrific,” Jalen Brunson said. “I’ve got to be better.”
Put in a current-day context, you might have probably thought Brunson was talking about his performance on Wednesday in the Knicks’ preseason finale loss to the Wizards.
Devoid of context you could have thought whatever. Maybe, even, about a potential comment made after a playoffs’ second-round loss against the prospective NBA Finals runner-up. No joke.
“I was horrific,” Brunson said after the Game 1 loss to Miami all the way back in April. “I’ve got to be better.”
Good for Brunson, he holds himself to the same sky-high standards in the most meaningful of games as well as the most inconsequential of them.
In Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semi-finals, the Knicks surrendered home-court advantage to the Heat, and JB wrote 25 points, seven dimes, and five boards on his stat line logging 40 minutes of playing time.
In Game 4 of the NBA preseason, the Knicks wrapped up their preparations for the next campaign with a stinker against the lowly Wiz, and JB had a 12-point, five-assist, six-rebound day in 25 minutes of play. He committed five of the Knicks’ 15 turnovers, thus the initial comment.
“It’s over,” added Brunson.
Over it is, indeed. Only now we’re transitioning from “pre” to “regular,” and that means that winning and losing games counts for something more than bragging rights. Perhaps not for that much—ask last season’s no. 8 seed, your Finals-bound Miami Heat—but you know what I’m saying.
The vibes inside MSG weren’t as bad as they were at Barclays Center on Wednesday, but they are definitely not what you’d label immaculate either.
“Now it’s time to go,” Julius Randle said after the game. “The real thing is here. We’re going to have to take strides and step forward in these next coming days.
“But we will.”
And hey, these Knicks better pay their bills.
Hasn’t this franchise opted to keep things status quo—barring flipping Obi Toppin for Donte DiVincenzo—because everything was working and only going to improve? Hasn’t this franchise played the wait game while growing organically trusting a steady progress?
Judging by the Poole Party—excuse me, the 131-106 trouncing by Washington at the Garden—that didn’t feel like it was the case. Not for now, at least.
“We don’t want to rely on [last season’s results],” Randle added, “but we understand that we have to have more of a sense of urgency.”
Coach Tom Thibodeau agreed. “The intensity that’s required defensively is not a sometimes thing,” Thibs said. “It’s an all-the-time thing.”
The coach sounded hella pissed at the lack of effort shown by his pupils. “Once you compete, once you go all out, then it’s easier to say, ‘All right we’re doing this, we’re doing that.’ We can’t say we’re doing X, Y, and Z if we’re not playing as hard as we possibly can.”
Freshest kid in town DiVincenzo, he of the ring with the Bucks in 2021, calmed the waters (“There’s nobody panic-button hitting, going into [the regular season]”) while also throwing a warning. “We’re aware of where it can go.”
Quoth Brunson: “We just got to be better. We can’t just jump back to where we were last year. We have to start over.”
Quoth Thibs: “Disappointed would be the perfect word. We can’t make the assumption that we’re picking up where we left off. We have to make sure that we start all over again and put the work into it and don’t think that we’re going to get the same results. We’re fooling ourselves if we think that. That’s the danger.”
Brunson left the door for improvement open, asking himself “Are we where we want to be right now?” before decisively answering “No.”
We hope so, JB, we hope so.