Despite winning only two of their six games this month, the Phoenix Suns (13-11) have been playing better defense statistically. They jumped from a bottom-third defensive rating in November to a 13th-best in December. And with their big three (Kevin Durant, Devin Booker, and Bradley Beal) finally playing together this week, an already potent offense was poised to become even more explosive. If only they could stay healthy. . . .
On Friday, the New York Knicks (13-10) visited the Footprint Center for their second, and final, regular season game against the Suns. The Knicks dropped their late November matchup by three. Tonight, Jalen Brunson refused to lose again. New York’s best player scored career-highs for points (50) and three-pointers (a perfect 9-of-9), leading the Knicks to a 139-122 victory.
Went something like this.
Balanced scoring out of the gate was a welcome sign for New York, with all five starters getting buckets in the first three minutes. As for Phoenix, their fans had a traumatic moment about four minutes in, when Beal swished a three and twisted his ankle on Donte DiVincenzo’s foot. Following a free throw, he exited for the night. The big three, foiled again.
Led by Julius Randle’s eight points—and an almost perfect first-quarter statline by RJ Barrett—New York finished the first frame ahead 31-30. The Knicks had found the paint mostly wide-open for easy transactions and had stolen the ball five times to Phoenix’s one.
Not only had all the starters posted points, but the bench players had success scoring, too, with Immanuel Quickley, Josh Hart, and Quentin Grimes flushing the net. Balance is a beautiful thing. Every player gave maximum effort, to positive results. Despite Phoenix’s blazing shooting in the first half—they hit 9-of-17 from deep—New York held a lead most of the way because they had:
- scored ten second-chance points to Phoenix’s seven
- won the points in the paint 32 to 28
- won the offensive glass six to five
- grabbed seven steals to Phoenix’s two
Kevin Durant didn’t convert his first points until late in the first quarter but then hit the gas in the second and topped the scoresheet with 17 at halftime. Jusuf Nurkic added 15 points and 10 rebounds for Phoenix, and the sunny squad went on a 19-10 run over the final three minutes to grab a 68-63 halftime lead.
Your halftime shot chart:
The Knicks needed to continue out-hustling Phoenix if they hoped to keep the pace, let alone win. Out of intermission, the Suns goosed their lead, thanks to 11 quick points by Devin Booker. On New York’s side, Jalen Brunson endeavored to carry the team, but Julius Randle—who had started the game well—had begun to fall apart before halftime and only got dumber after. Even MSG broadcaster Mike Breen felt compelled to declare Randle’s iso-ball behavior detrimental to the team.
As the deficit stretched to ten and Phoenix toyed with giving this game an early bedtime, Brunson was relentless. He had 15 first-half points; in the third quarter, he outscored his teammates, 19 to 15. Thanks to The Little Jalen that Could, they won the frame and went into the last leg down only 99-97.
That blessed balance returned to start the fourth quarter. Barrett, Grimes, and Quickley stormed the court to give New York a seven-point lead. After four minutes, Brunson and Randle checked back in and they didn’t blow it! Their advantage reached 10 points and rocketed up from there, as the team that couldn’t buy a bucket in Utah turned into Harlem Globetrotters. They blocked the Suns, they stripped the Suns, and they out-Brunsoned the Suns en route to victory.
Your final: 139-122. Sam Stein is in the basement, mixing up your medicine. Sleep well, Knickerbockers.