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Knicks 118, Pistons 112: Scenes from Brunson saving the Knicks from embarrassment

Jalen Brunson scores his sixth 40+ game as a Knick and Julius Randle adds 29 to hold off the Detroit Pistons.

Detroit Pistons v New York Knicks Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

The Detroit Pistons (2-17) played against the Lakers last night, and successfully added a 15th loss to this season’s most shameful streak. On Tuesday, the New York Knicks (11-7) beat the Charlotte Hornets by 24 points. The Knicks would have egg on their faces if they lost tonight, with the reeling Pistons appearing in the second of a back-to-back.

Yeah, well. While the Knicks thought about the Christmas presents they’ve yet to buy, or postgame dinner plans, or whatever else distracted their attention from the court, the Pistons nearly ran away with the game.

Detroit stayed close throughout the contest and late into the fourth. Once again, the Knicks missed their free throws and gave up a surprising amount of rebounds. The Pistons shot the ball well (53% and 43%), but committed 20 turnovers and 25 fouls. Thanks to 42 points from Jalen Brunson, the Knicks outlasted them and handed the Once Bad Boys their 16th loss in a row, 118-112.

First Quarter

Detroit started Cade Cunningham and Killian Hayes in their backcourt. Isaiahs Livers and Stewart joined Jalen Duren in the frontcourt.

The sleepy Knicks missed 10 of their first 13 shots, including five of their first six three-point attempts, and let the Pistons take a 10-9 lead by the 6:23 mark of the first quarter. Luckily, Detroit is a turnover machine and New York regained their composure. They gradually pulled ahead by 14. Former Knicks Kevin Knox II and Alec Burks checked in for the Michiganoes with under four minutes to go. Neither one did anything significant, but I’d be remiss not to mention them.

Cunningham scored nine of Detroit’s 17 first-quarter points; Jalen Brunson recorded 16 of New York’s 31. On Tuesday, Julius Randle logged the first 20/20 game of his career; he was well on his way to at least a double-double tonight, scoring nine points and six rebounds after 12 minutes.

Add another offensive charge drawn to Jalen Brunson’s season stats. He went 3-of-4 from deep in the quarter.

Second Quarter

Around the 10 minutes mark, Kenny Albert observed that Detroit had more turnovers (10) than field goals (eight). Bums, you say? Still, they plodded along on an 13-0 run and outscored New York 15-4 through the first five minutes of the quarter. And it got worse.

First, Clyde treated the home viewers to a “feline quickness,” so shoutout to our own felinequickness. And then, during the broadcast, Rebecca Haarlow interviewed Mitchell Robinson’s high school basketball coach. The white-haired fella said that when the coach’s wife was in the hospital, Mitch visited her every day. After the she passed, Mitch invited the coach to be his roommate in NYC while he grieved the loss. He called Mitch a “very caring person.” I’d say so, coach.

Three-pointers by Brunson and Donte DiVincenzo (both assisted by Randle) pushed the Knicks further ahead, and soon they were up by 12 . . . until Marcus Sasser balled out a bit. The 25th pick in this year’s draft made four of eight long-range attempts in the quarter, plus two assists, a steal, and a rebound to give New York fits. Thanks to Sasser and Cunningham, Detroit outscored the Knicks 37-23 in the quarter and the game was tied 54 apiece at halftime.

New York had shot 40% from the field to Detroit’s 49%, and 33% from deep to Detroit’s 44%. The Knicks had also been outrebounded 27-22, and committed eight turnovers of their own. Their seven steals and Brunson’s 23 first-half points were the highlights.

Your halftime shot chart:

Third Quarter

These Pistons are not the scrubs that were promised. The Knicks inched ahead by single digits, but lacked focus all night long. Detroit tied the score again by midway, and Sasser’s sixth triple with four and a half minutes left gave the Pistons their first lead since early on. Lucky for New York, Brunson scored 14 more points this quarter, or they’d really be paddle-less up a creek. As it was, New York entered the final frame down 87-85.

The Pistons have the league’s 27th offense. New York, with the NBA’s 4th-best defense, let them score back-to-back 33+ quarters. Absolutely . . . no . . . focus.

Brunson, Randle, and Barrett provided almost all of New York’s scoring, combining for 72 of their 85 points through three quarters.

Fourth Quarter

The game see-sawed, with the Knicks gaining, then surrendering, then re-gaining the lead. Thanks to a three-pointer by DiVincenzo and a layup by Hart, they took a slim advantage again with eight minutes to go.

What was going wrong? Why weren’t the Knicks dismantling the hapless Pistons? Free throws, for one. New York finished 20-of-28 from the line. Detroit continued to outrebound them. The Pistons coughed up the ball 20 times, which New York converted to 21 points; New York gave away the ball 11 times, for which Detroit punished them with 22 points. And lots of aloofness.

With the Pistons threatening to steal the game, DiVincenzo provided a major lift from the bench. The new guy drilled his third and fourth three-pointer of the game in a timely fashion, and added some choice defense. The line-up on the court to close the game consisted of Brunson, DiVincenzo, Hart, Randle, and Robinson. With two minutes to go, New York was up by seven, and our heroes finally managed to hold on for the win.

Your Starters:

  • Jalen Brunson: 42 points, eight assists, six rebounds, one steal, one TO, +13, 13-of-24 FG, 7-of-12 3P, 9-of-10 FT, 39 minutes.
  • Quentin Grimes: no points, one rebound, two steals, 0-of-5 FG, 0-of-4, 16 minutes.
  • R.J. Barrett: 15 points, one board, two assists, two TO, 5-of-12 FG, 1-of-6 3P, 24 minutes.
  • Julius Randle: 29 points, 10 rebounds, eight assists, one block, three TO, 12-of-21 FG, 2-of-5 3P, 38 minutes.
  • Mitchell Robinson: nine board, six points, one apiece for steals, blocks, assists, 2-of-2 FT, 31 minutes.

Up Next

The second night of a back-to-back with a contest across the border against the Raptors. It sure would have been nice to let the starters rest in the second half tonight. Toronto should put up more of a fight than the Detroit Pistons. Let’s see if the Knicks will, too. Safe travels, Knickerbockers.

Box Score