Brunson burns slumping Nets at MSG
Knicks guard pours in 40 as Brooklyn drops second straight
While the suddenly superstar-less Nets tried to adjust to their reshaped roster, Jalen Brunson and the Knicks had a ball at Brooklyn’s expense.
Brunson scored 40 points, including six 3-pointers, and New York used a big second half to run away from the new-look Nets, 124-106, Monday night in front of a sellout crowd of 19,812 fans at Madison Square Garden.
“He just really has a knack of getting to his shots,” Brooklyn head coach Jacque Vaughn said of Brunson, who went 15-of-21 from the floor, handed out five assists and blocked a shot as the Knicks ended a nine-game losing streak in the East River rivalry.
The Nets (33-24) went undefeated against the Knicks whenever Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving played, but now they’ve lost four of their last six games overall to slip into fifth place in the Eastern Conference playoff race.
With Durant in Phoenix and Irving in Dallas, Vaughn is working his way through an assortment of new players, each of whom is also adjusting to playing with new teammates.
“We are learning each other,” admitted Vaughn, who had Cam Johnson and fellow new additions Mikal Bridges and Dorian Finney-Smith in the starting lineup alongside Spencer Dinwiddie and Nic Claxton. “We’ll use (Tuesday’s practice) to get used to each other.”
Brunson helped the seventh-place Knicks (32-27) pull within two games of Brooklyn, which doesn’t want to return to the NBA’s play-in tournament featuring the No. 7-10 seeds.
“You’ve got to give them credit. They’ve been really good the past couple of years and they were great tonight,” Brunson said of New York’s losing streak in the rivalry.
“But I think we just had the upper hand in the second half and we kind of just turned it up a little bit and came away with a win.”
The Villanova alum had 17 points in the third quarter, when New York turned a three-point halftime deficit into a 93-83 advantage entering the final 12 minutes.
“(Brunson) makes a mid-range shot then you adjust to that, then he gets the 3-ball rolling,” lamented Vaugtn. “He’s had a heck of a year and give him credit, he had a heck of a ballgame.”
Dinwiddie scored 28 points, Johnson, one of the players acquired from the Suns for Durant, added 14 and Claxton finished with 11 for the Nets, who will host Miami at Barclays Center on Wednesday before getting six days off for the annual NBA All-Star break.
Julius Randle had 18 points and 10 rebounds for New York, which has won four of its last five contests as it continues to reel slumping Brooklyn in.
“They made it hard for us. The ball stopped moving,” Finney-Smith said of the Nets’ poor performance following intermission. “And give them credit, (Brunson) made some tough shots. … When guys get hot, we have to do a better job.”
Always steadfast in his belief that the Nets need to continue thriving and surviving without their former superstar tandem, Vaughn did jab that he would like more time with his new additions.
“We got another game before the (All-Star) break. I wish we could practice during the break,” he joked.
NOTHING BUT NET: Vaughn indicated prior to Monday’s game that Seth Curry, who has missed five games in a row with a left abductor strain, could be available against the Heat here in Brooklyn Wednesday night. … When the Nets return from the break, they’ll visit Chicago on Feb. 24 and Atlanta on Feb. 26 before hosting Milwaukee here on Feb. 28. … Bridges and Johnson will visit M.S. 898 Brooklyn Green School Tuesday, where they will participate in a conversation about friendship and engage in team-building activities with a group of middle school students. Also Tuesday, Dinwiddie and Finney-Smith will join the boys’ and girls’ junior varsity and varsity basketball teams at Achievement First High School in Brooklyn for a basketball clinic.
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