CHICAGO — Foot contusion? What foot contusion.
Jalen Brunson certainly didn’t look like someone limited by an injury Wednesday night. A game-time decision, Brunson wasn’t going to miss out on playing in front of family and friends so close to where he spent a large portion of his childhood.
After resorting to isolation ball with Julius Randle to close out regulation, the Knicks put the ball in Brunson’s hands in the extra session, and he didn’t disappoint. He scored seven of his 30 points in the final five minutes as the Knicks knocked off the Bulls, 128-120, at the United Center after blowing a five-point lead in the final 2:07 of regulation. The victory, the Knicks’ sixth road victory in eight tries, gave them a season-high five-game win streak and moved them to two games over .500 at 15-13 for the first time since late October.
Quentin Grimes hit arguably the game’s biggest shot, a 3-pointer that caromed off the front of the rim and fell in to give the Knicks a six-point edge with 1:04 to go. Brunson then hit another 3-pointer after leaving Alex Caruso on the floor with a crossover. He showed rare emotion, celebrating the big shot by shouting towards his high school coach, Pat Ambrose, and two close friends who were sitting under the basket.
“Pretty special,” was how Brunson described the evening.
As recently as Monday, Brunson was in a walking boot after Davion Mitchell landed awkwardly on his right foot in the Knicks’ win over the Kings on Sunday. He didn’t finish that game and wasn’t able to practice on Tuesday. But against the Bulls, he logged 39 minutes and was at his best in overtime.
In hindsight, it seemed silly that there was even a question about his status.
“I don’t want to give anyone the notion that I’m healthy, but I just didn’t want to take today off,” said Brunson, who also had seven assists. “Me as a leader, if I’m able to walk and I’m able to play, I’ve got to bring it.”
As a group, the Knicks brought it in overtime, especially on the defensive end. They held the Bulls to just three points on 1 of 7 shooting after allowing them to shoot 58 percent over the first four quarters. It was similar to their previous four wins when the Knicks held three opponents under 100 points.
“It was nice to see,” coach Tom Thibodeau said. “I’d prefer to see it earlier.”
Randle scored a team-high 31 points — his third 30-point effort in four games — to go along with 13 rebounds and seven assists, and RJ Barrett had 22 points before fouling out late in regulation. Grimes chipped in 14 points, five rebounds and a team-best plus-14 rating. DeMar DeRozan scored 32 for the Bulls (11-16), who had their three-game home winning streak snapped.
The Knicks led by as many as 14 points in the first half and were up five in the final two minutes. But they couldn’t finish off the Bulls in regulation as Randle air-balled a baseline fadeaway, leaving Chicago with 0.7 seconds left to win it. Randle, though, read the lob play well, and got in between Patrick Williams and the rim, forcing overtime.
“Sometimes you have to win games in different ways, and the bottom line is just find a way to win,” Thibodeau said.
The Knicks left no doubt from then on. Brunson made sure of that, bad right foot and all, producing his fourth 30-point game of the season.
“It says a lot about him. It’s everything,” Thibodeau said. “Coming in, [getting] multiple treatments every day. That becomes his game, it becomes his practice. He’s been through so many different things. He has a strategy for everything. He just gets out there and gets it done.”