The Knicks' Jalen Brunson drives around the Magic's Wendell Carter Jr....

The Knicks' Jalen Brunson drives around the Magic's Wendell Carter Jr. during the first half of an NBA game Tuesday in Orlando, Fla. Credit: AP/John Raoux

ORLANDO, Fla. — Jalen Brunson hasn’t been chosen as an All-Star – yet -- but he is Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau’s choice to control the ball in the waning minutes of a close game.

The Knicks were trailing by one point against the Magic at Amway Center on Tuesday night when Brunson banked in a layup to give them the lead for good with 1:13 to go in the fourth.  

Then Brunson fed Jericho Sims for a slam and hit four free throws to help seal the Knicks’ 102-98 victory in their final game before Thursday’s trade deadline.

Brunson – who has a chance to be named an All-Star reserve if Kevin Durant can’t make it because of his knee injury, as it appears the Nets star won’t – led the Knicks with 25 points and added five assists.

Julius Randle had 22 points and 14 rebounds. Immanuel Quickley added 18 points.

Markelle Fultz led the Magic (22-33) with 21 points.

"I thought the second half we were a lot better," Thibodeau said. "I thought the fourth quarter we were very good . . . I thought Julius and Jalen set the tone in the fourth quarter and just the way we closed. Big rebounds, physicality, hustle plays, and then we had a number of guys make timely plays."

The Knicks (30-26) spent much of the game battling the officials as much as they battled Orlando. There were many calls and non-calls that irked them.

Randle was called for a technical foul after he felt he was hacked and there was no call with 2:21 left in the third and the Knicks down four.

Brunson will have his No. 1 jersey retired by Villanova at halftime of its home game on Wednesday against DePaul. Brunson led Villanova to two NCAA championships and was named National Player of the Year for the 2017-18 season. He spent three years at Villanova and earned his degree after his first season in the NBA.

Orlando is building a young roster that Magic fans hope will compete for a play-in spot (although many of those hopeful fans must have sold their tickets to Knicks fans on Tuesday because the building was half and half in terms of rooting, or maybe even 60-40 in favor of the Knicks).  

"Always great to have the New York fans here," Thibodeau said. "We certainly appreciate their support. That helped bring energy to the game for us."

The Knicks are off until they face the 76ers in Philadelphia on Friday, the day after the deadline.  

Will the Knicks make a big splash? Probably not, unless you count shipping Cam Reddish out of town as a big splash.

For better or worse, unless something unexpected happens before Thursday at 3 p.m., these are your Knicks. They have a good chance to at least be a play-in team. They are whole right now, with the exception of injured center Mitchell Robinson.

The Knicks will host the Nets (Kyrie Irving’s former team) on Monday. Even NBA players are wondering what the Nets will do with Durant – trade him or acquire more players to placate him? – before the deadline.  

“It’s that time,” RJ Barrett said. “I’m sure Kyrie is the first move and I’m sure there will be something happening towards the deadline.”

Barrett didn’t mean with the Knicks. He meant leaguewide. He has no idea what the Knicks are going to do.

“I just do my job, man,” Barrett said. “I just come in and play basketball. I’m focused on the team we have right now and let management do what they do.”

The Knicks came in 4-3 in their last seven, with the wins coming against top Eastern Conference teams in Boston, Cleveland, Miami and Philadelphia. The losses were against Brooklyn and the two Los Angeles teams.

On Tuesday, the Knicks were sluggish at the start and fell behind by 11 in the first quarter. But they picked it up and trailed 26-22 after one.

Orlando got it back to a 12-point lead in the second quarter. The Knicks had a 12-1 run late in the quarter, but still trailed 48-40 at the half.

The Knicks closed the gap in the third, but still were down 69-66 heading to the fourth. Barrett opened the fourth with a three-pointer to tie it and Quickley eventually gave the Knicks their first lead since 2-0 at 72-71 with a three. But the lead did not last long and so began a back-and-forth fourth.

Barrett, who was a late scratch on Sunday with what the club called a “non-COVID illness,” wasn’t sure if he would be able to play on Tuesday.  

“I’ll try,” he said after morning shootaround, and the Knicks announced about 30 minutes before game time that Barrett was good to go and he finished with 15 points.


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