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Jalen Brunson joins Michael Jordan, other legends on prestigious NBA Playoffs scoring lists

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Jalen Brunson has dominated every stop of his career. You can start way back at Stevenson High School in suburban Chicago, when Brunson powered a non-traditional program to three state Final Four appearances and a 2015 state championship on his way to becoming Illinois Mr. Basketball. His impact on Villanova was even greater: two national championships, a national player of the year award in 2018, and a reputation as one of the great college guards of his generation.

Still, Brunson’s game wasn’t supposed to work in the NBA. He was barely 6’2, he played exclusively below the rim, and he didn’t have the speed to blow-by defenders on the perimeter. He slipped to the second round, spent his first three years as a sparkplug off the bench next to Luka Doncic, then exploded into something resembling the star during the Dallas Mavericks’ run to the 2022 Western Conference Finals.

The Mavericks let him go in free agency anyway, believing he wasn’t worth the 4-year, $104 million contract offered by the New York Knicks. He turned into a star almost immediately, and will be named All-NBA at the end of this year.

At a certain point, we should stop being surprised by Brunson’s excellence. This is simply who he’s been his entire life, lifting his teams to the biggest stages through nothing but guile and tough shot-making. Brunson did it again in the 2024 NBA Playoffs, delivering an all-time great performance in an all-time great series.

The New York Knicks advanced to the second round of the playoffs after eliminating the Philadelphia 76ers in an instant classic six-game series. This series will be remembered for the Knicks’ impossible comeback win in Game 2, and Tyrese Maxey leading the Sixers to their own impossible comeback in Game 5, but more than anything it will be remembered as the moment Brunson officially went from NBA star to superstar.

Brunson took over Game 6 down in the stretch, capping a 41-point, 12-assist effort for another playoff gem. This followed Brunson going off for 39 points and 13 assists in Game 3, 47 points and 10 assists in Game 4, and 40 points and six assists in Game 5. Only one other player has ever put up scoring numbers like that in a playoff series before … an absolute peak-of-his-powers Michael Jordan.

Here’s another one with MJ:

Add in the assists and another legend comes up: Oscar Robertson.

Brunson broke Bernard King’s Knicks franchise playoff scoring record with 47 points in Game 4. He now joins King on an elite list of NBA players to pop off for 40 points or more in three consecutive playoff games.

The way Brunson gets his numbers is even more impressive. For a player who has been winning with an “old man’s game” since before he got his drivers license, Brunson has now fully mastered every ounce of craftiness a guard can have. He’s impossibly good at maintaining his dribble, slowly inching his way into the paint, and hitting tough interior shots from any angle.

Now that Brunson can happily pull up and drain a three-pointer from 35-feet whenever he wants, there’s almost no safeguarding against his offensive onslaught. Game 6 was a thing of beauty.

The Knicks now face the Indiana Pacers in the second round. The Pacers play at a blistering tempo behind their own star point guard, Tyrese Haliburton, but it will be Brunson setting the pace while moving at his own speed.

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