Once or twice every season, every Eastern Conference team hops in the saddle and journeys from sea to shining sea to the West Coast for a couple games on the road. While the trip may only last four or five games, the impact of the games is usually felt far deeper into the season—each team knows the importance of the time away from their home arenas.
When things go according to plan, winning on the road in today’s uber-competitive West can build identity, instill confidence, and give a fanbase confidence in their team’s abilities.
When things don’t? You’re probably watching the Knicks.
The New York Knicks have historically had a rocky relationship with their road trips out west. Trips out west have undone Knicks teams in the past. Halfway through the 2021-22 season, the Knicks were 24-28, slumping but still in hope of a late-season push. They promptly lost four of five on their yearly road trip west, stumbled their way back home, then lost six more in a row immediately after. See you next year.
Earlier this week, New York chartered a flight to get their five-game road venture underway. Game one was Wednesday’s game against the Utah Jazz, and it offered a similar feeling to late-tipoff games in years past. In what should have been their least stressful game of the road trip, the Knicks put up a stinker, losing 117-113 to a severely undermanned and inferior opponent.
Their chance for vengeance came on Friday against the Phoenix Suns, a team with incredible star power starting to get healthy. We saw Phoenix a couple weeks ago at the Garden, and it ended with Devin Booker driving a dagger into the hearts of New Yorkers everywhere by hitting a game-winner as time expired.
This time, Booker brought his friends with him, Kevin Durant and Bradley Beal. Gulp. If the Knicks wanted to win the game, it would take a strong showing from all five players on the floor.
Or a Herculean effort from just one.
Wow. Jalen Brunson tonight: 50 PTS on 17-23 FG (9-9 3PT), 6 REB, 9 AST, 5 STL. In a win. Un. Real.
So how did this all go down?
Well, the game got off to an unassuming start. The Knicks’ balanced scoring carried them through the opening frame. All five starters scored in the opening minutes of the game—yes, even Jericho Sims. The Knicks were putting the ball in the basket, and the offense was clicking early. Julius Randle and Jalen Brunson were getting to the rim, the Knicks were scoring in the paint, and Phoenix was giving away easy turnovers.
The Suns’ Big 3 seemed primed for a battle on the other end of the floor, but less than five minutes into the game, disaster struck. Bradley Beal sprained his ankle after DDV got caught underneath him on a three-pointer, and he left the game and was unable to return.
Despite this, Devin Booker and Kevin Durant pulled their weight, and they got help from Jusuf Nurkic for the rest of the first quarter. When all was said and done, the Knicks had a one-point edge, 31-30, going into the second.
The beginning of the second frame belonged to the bench mob. IQ, Josh Hart, and Quentin Grimes came out aggressive. It was great seeing Grimes look aggressive on the offensive end of the floor again off the bench, and the second unit played strong.
Around halfway through the quarter, the keys were handed back to Brunson and Randle, who took over the scoring duties for the duration of the half. By halftime, JB would tally 15 points, 4 rebounds, 5 assists, and 4 steals on 5-11 shooting. A great half! But not historical. Yet.
There was just one brief issue with the way the Knicks closed out the half. With 3:00 remaining in the half, the Suns had 49 points. Good! At the end of the half, they were up to 68. Not good. Kevin Durant scored 11 points including three straight 3-pointers, Grayson Allen and Nassir Little connected from deep, and Jusuf Nurkic finished at the rim to cap the flurry of points scored by the bad guys.
Despite this, New York hung in there, thanks to their forcing of turnovers, strong paint scoring, and offensive rebounding. At the half: 68-63, Suns. The Knicks were in a battle.
The Suns came out firing in the second half, too. Booker and Durant were scoring at will, and Jordan Goodwin hit from deep to put the Suns up by double digits, 90-80, with 5:05 left in the 3rd. Julius Randle was playing like Julius Randle (derogatory). Things were bleak, and the Knicks needed a hero.
Enter Jalen Brunson. I’m not sure what Thibs said to him at the half. I’m not sure if he got his hands on some of Michael’s Secret Stuff, or if he changed his underwear, or what. Whatever it was—boy, did it work.
Brunson had 19 points on perfect shooting in quarter number three. 7-of-7 from the field. 5-of-5 from long range. It was simply unbelievable watching JB single-handedly will the Knicks into playing competitive basketball. And compete they did. An IQ bucket in the waning seconds of the quarter cut the deficit back to just two at the end of the quarter. The job wasn’t finished. But there was hope.
Out of nowhere, the Knicks opened the fourth quarter with an impressive offensive balance. RJ Barrett was getting to the line, Quentin Grimes hit a couple shots, Isaiah Hartenstein and Quickley were getting in on the action—it was a party. The Knicks jumped in front by seven.
With 7:54 left in the 4th quarter, with the score 112-105 in favor of New York, Jalen Brunson checked back in.
He did it on his own. There was no looking back.
In the fourth quarter, JB added an additional 16 points. He did it by shooting 5-5 from the field, and 3-3 from 3-point range. When it was all said and done, he hit the coveted 50-point mark for the first time in his career, and he did it by shooting a perfect 9-9 from deep.
Sweet dreams, Phoenix.
The bench mob got 82 seconds of cardio—including a cameo by new/old Knick Taj Gibson—and it was on a happy occasion. Your final score: Knicks 139, Suns 122.
- I just want to reiterate this. Jalen Brunson in the second half scored 35 points. He shot the ball 12 times. All 12 went in. Eight of them were behind the three-point line. They still all went in. He shot five free throws. Only three went in. He’s human. But barely.
- Per the ESPN telecast: the Suns Big 3 have played 24 minutes together this season. The Suns played their 25th game of the season tonight. The best ability remains availability.
- Isaiah Hartenstein was a +29 tonight, playing 31 minutes. I’m still not sure how I feel about Sims starting ahead of him. iHart plays his tail off every night.
- The Knicks this season have given up 46.3 points in the paint. Since Mitchell Robinson went down, they’ve given up 52, 50, and 60 in the paint. Something to keep a big eye on.
- Outside of their Big 3, Grayson Allen, and Jusuf Nurkic, the Suns are searching for answers in terms of depth. Their bench remains undefined, and if they want to make a run at a ring later in the year, they’ll need more bench clarity along with more fortunate injury luck.
- RJ Barrett went 8-of-8 from the charity stripe tonight.
- A warm welcome back to Taj Gibson! He and Thibs remain conjoined at the hip.
SagaciousNLoquacious with tonight’s headline. “Action Brunson.”
What an evening, everyone. We do it all again tomorrow against Kawhi, Harden, PG13, and the rest of the Clips squad. Sweet dreams.