Brandon Jennings blazed down the Garden floor against the Trail Blazers, leading the Knicks on a fast break. Then he cut off the dribble at the foul line and fed Mindaugas Kuzminskas for the two-point prize inside.
This was the second quarter Tuesday night and the Knicks’ backup point guard was leaving his imprint, showing off his playmaking side, his defensive side and his fiery side, lighting a spark for the home team.
When the game was done, Jennings had just four points but they went with 11 assists, no turnovers and a 107-103 Knicks victory that brought them to 7-7. It marked his third game with double-figure assists off the bench, the first Knick to do that since 1990.
“Brandon doesn’t have to score to have an impact on the game,” coach Jeff Hornacek said. “His impact, his activity, he gets the energy going for the group he is out there with. I can’t say enough for a guy who can come off the bench and get 11 assists. He’s a great player.”
The Knicks signed him to a one-year, $5 million free-agent deal. Jennings needed to prove himself again after a ruptured Achilles with Detroit in January of 2015 took him off course. He has given them a very good option behind Derrick Rose, who had 18 points and five assists on this night.
“Me and Derrick, we’re just playmakers,” Jennings said. “When you have point guards like myself and Derrick, he can make plays. He can hit big shots. I just try to set the tone on the defensive end and just play hard every night. Just play hard and play with passion.”
The Knicks were down nine in the first quarter and they were still trailing the Trail Blazers 41-36 in the second. His passion and competitive fire showed when he and Noah Vonley were hit with double technicals trying to get a hold of the ball.
Five seconds later, Justin Holiday hit a jumper for the Knicks. Then Jennings poked the ball away from point guard Damian Lillard. Kristaps Porzingis corralled it and fed Jennings for a fast-break layup, cutting the lead to 41-40.
Soon Jennings was driving the left side of the lane, and the Knicks were up 44-43. Jennings helped ignite a 19-7 burst that gave the Knicks a 55-48 lead.
“I’ve always been a true point guard,” said Jennings, who had cramping problems during the game. “I like to set the table.”
When the Knicks lost at Washington last Thursday night, Jennings let out his displeasure to the media. Now they’ve won two in a row. The difference?
“Just our sense of urgency,” Jennings said. “We need to play desperate every night.”