Jalen Brunson got some bad news on Thursday. The catalyst behind New York's surprisingly successful season got snubbed for an All-Star berth when the reserves were announced, and while Brunson was likely happy to see teammate Julius Randle get the nod, his own case was seemingly stronger. Randle may be averaging more points, but Brunson has scored more efficiently and been a better playmaker. His presence has allowed Randle to play more like the All-Star he was in 2021, yet he was not recognized for his stellar season.
In a bit of a silver lining for Brunson, the basketball world got to see what the Knicks would be like without him Thursday as a non-COVID illness held him out of New York's game against the Miami Heat. The Knicks ultimately managed to win the game, but one of the crazier final minutes of the 2022-23 regular season was proof of just how badly this offense needs Brunson at the helm.
Let's dive in with 56 seconds remaining. Tyler Herro has just made a jumper to cut New York's lead down to 102-99. The Knicks call timeout. Typically, Brunson would find a way to create space during the inbounds play, get fouled and make his free throws. Nobody could do that for RJ Barrett, though, so his pass is stolen by Bam Adebayo. He gets fouled by Randle and sinks both free throws.
What followed was one of the more chaotic end of game sequences you'll ever see. Herro misses a game-tying 3-pointer. Barrett turns the ball over. Herro turns it back over. Randle somehow finds his way to an open dunk to give the Knicks a 106-101 lead with under six seconds remaining.
The game should be over... right? Well... not exactly. Max Strus quickly sinks a 3-pointer, so the Knicks have to do the timeout and inbounds dance again. Once again, Barrett struggles to find a pass. He makes a desperation heave to Randle, who was initially bailed out with a foul call. However, upon review, he actually traveled.
And so, the Heat improbably have a chance to win the game at the buzzer. Sadly for Miami, Herro can't convert a relatively clean look from deep.
In the end, it worked out. The Knicks won the game. Beating a defending Eastern Conference finalist without two starters is an unmitigated positive. But three ugly turnovers down the stretch showed just how critical Brunson is to this offense late in games. Randle, who went 8-for-21 in the game and attempted only two shots in the fourth quarter, needed some luck to lead the Knicks to victory in this one.