Jalen Brunson of the New York Knicks reacts during the...

Jalen Brunson of the New York Knicks reacts during the fourth quarter against the Indiana Pacers in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference second-round playoff series at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday, May 8, 2024. Credit: TNS

Every Knick fan knows every second of the grainy black-and-white film clip.

In fact, if you’re a rabid Knicks fan there’s a good chance you’ve watched that goose-bump-inducing clip of Willis Reed limping out of the tunnel at Madison Square Garden before Game 7 of the 1970 NBA Finals more than you’ve watched your own wedding video.

Each time it plays, almost every fan has wondered if the team will ever have another hero like Reed, ever have a leader who knows how to squeeze the most from an emotional moment and use it to deliver the Knicks a huge win.

Well, Jalen Brunson has done it. Exactly 54 years to the date of that Game 7 upset win over the Lakers, Brunson gave Knicks fans their long-awaited sequel as he overcame a first quarter foot injury to push his team to 130-121 win over the Indiana Pacers in Game 2 of their conference semifinals series.

Brunson had been listed as questionable to return after he headed to the locker room in the first quarter after suffering an injury to his right foot. When he did not return for the second quarter, you could almost hear the air go out of the Garden and his team fell behind by 10 points at the half.

When Brunson walked out on the court began shooting free throws right before the third quarter, he was greeted by a cascade of MVP chants. Then, just as Reed had hit two quick buckets to inspire his team to a win, Brunson scored 24 of his 29 points in the second half as team bounced back for the win. The victory gives the Knicks a 2-0 lead in the series as they head to Indianapolis for Friday’s Game 3.

“Just a lot of toughness. We all know his makeup,” Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said of Brunson. “The mental toughness is so important. It’s about being the best when the best is needed, even when you aren’t feeling well.”

Donte DiVincenzo, who had 28 points, said everyone was relieved to have Brunson back on the court.

“When he’s out there, there’s a level of calmness, we’ll get the right shot every single time,” DiVincenzo said. “There’s a level of confidence from everybody that we have with him on the court with us. Everybody can settle down and play their own game.”

It was yet another remarkable chapter in what has been a remarkable playoff series for the Knicks All-Star guard.

Much too do had been made before the game about the fact Brunson could pass Michael Jordan and become just the second NBA player ever to score 40 points in five consecutive games. While that did not come to pass, what he did by rejoining his team was even more legendary.

No player has been more important to his team this postseason than Brunson, who entered Wednesday night’s game at Madison Square Garden having scored 43, 41, 40 and 47 in his last four games. The only other players to have scored 40 or more points in four consecutive playoff games are Jerry West, who had a six-game streak, Michael Jordan (four) and Bernard King (four).

That’s why you could almost hear a collective gasp go up in the Garden when Brunson asked out of the game after appearing to suffer a non-contact injury. When he didn’t come back for the entire second quarter, an air of panic seemed to settle in.

The Knicks have survived the loss of Julius Randle this season and are surviving the loss of Mitchell Robinson. Brunson, however, is the one payer they cannot do without.

Despite the fact that Brunson entered the game having the best postseason of any player in the league, averaging a league best 36.6 points in seven games against the 76ers and the Pacers, he did not get a single first place vote in the MVP voting that was announced half an hour before the game.

Nikola Jokic was a runaway winner with 926 votes. He was followed by Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Luka Doncic, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Brunson, Jayson Tatum, Anthony Edwards, Domantas Sabonis and Kevin Durant.

The Denver big man had once again dominated the regular season on the way to earning the MVP award for the third time in his nine-year career.

Still would Jokic be a repeat winner if media members voted the day after the NBA Finals instead of the day after the last day of the season? Considering that Jokic’s Nuggets team is 0-2 against Minnesota in their second-round playoff series, one has to wonder.

In his pregame news conference Wednesday before the voting was announced, Thibodeau said he thinks it makes sense to wait until after the postseason to take the vote.

“What is it? Is it the MVP for the entire season or regular season?” Thibodeau said. “There’s a number of deserving candidates and certainly we feel Jalen is very deserving as well . . . You hate to leave anyone off that’s the reality of it. I prefer to wait until everything is done so you can look at everything.”

Everything right now is looking pretty good for Brunson.


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