If it wasn’t already apparent that Jalen Brunson was on fire, he hammered the point home midway through the second quarter of what would end up being a 118-112 Knicks win.
With Larry Johnson, the owner of the most famous four-point play in Knicks history, cheering him on from the stands, Brunson knocked down a three, was fouled by Jaden Ivey and then made a free throw to score his 23rd point of what would be a 42-point game.
The Knicks needed almost every one of them.
Their offense was mired in the mud for a good part of the game and their defense was missing in action until the fourth quarter.
After blowing an early 16-point lead, it wasn’t until late in the fourth quarter when Donte DiVincenzo hit three three-pointers and the Knicks defense suddenly woke up that it looked as though they were going to escape the win.
In the final five minutes, the Knicks defense held the Pistons to just one field goal — a driving layup by Cade Cunningham with 40 seconds left.
Brunson’s 42 points were just three points shy of his season high. He shot 13-for-24 overall, 7-for-12 from beyond the arc and made eight assists. Julius Randle added 29 points.
“It’s definitely a good feeling to see the ball go in the rim, but I think the one thing we can take away from this game is our defensive approach and mentality,” Brunson said. “We gotta be better.
“We gotta be better at holding leads and can’t put ourselves in position where it’s a grind-it-out game when we had a comfortable lead. We respect them, but we have to be better in doing what we do.”
The loss was the 16th straight for the Pistons, who completed the month of November winless.
The Knicks (11-7) have won six of their last eight as they head to Toronto for the second game of a back-to-back.
Detroit, a young team desperate for its first win since Oct. 28, dominated the second quarter to dig themselves out of a hole and tie the game at 55 at the half.
They then took their first lead since the initial minute of the game when Marcus Sasser hit a three-pointer to give the Pistons a 74-72 lead with 4:39 left in the third.
Over the course of the second and third periods, the Knicks were outscored, 70-54. When asked what was wrong with the defense for most of the game, Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau did not mince words.
“Just about everything you could possibly list,” Thibodeau said. “Defense in this league is maximum concentration and maximum effort. You need the two things tied together. It’s very hard to guard guys in this league.
“We’re better than that. You an have an off game. That happens in this league but we gotta bounce back. Usually our effort overall has been really good. Usually, I never had to speak about effort. But sometimes your concentration isn’t where it needs to be.”
The Knicks now head to Toronto for the second game of a back-to-back.
Brunson is hoping that the scare Thursday night will wake up the team as they head to Canada.
“I’d rather learn from winning than learn from losing,’ Brunson said. “A win is a win and I’m not going to discredit us from that. But we know what we have to do to be better.”