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Jalen Brunson scores 47 points as Knicks stun 76ers, 97-92, to take commanding 3-1 series lead



Jalen Brunson scores 47 points as Knicks stun 76ers, 97-92, to take commanding 3-1 series lead

PHILADELPHIA — Josh Hart pointed at the Sixers’ bench and called timeout for them.

76ers head coach Nick Nurse followed suit.

He had no choice.

Jalen Brunson had just made the game, and potentially series-winning bucket, and the Sixers needed to regroup.

They will have plenty of time to do so in Cancun, or wherever their vacation plans are this summer. Barring a meltdown of epic playoff proportions, this series is cooked.

With less than a minute left in regulation and the Knicks up four, Brunson, who’d carved up the Sixer defense all afternoon, took out his sword and did it once more, knifing into the lane, this time inexplicably uncontested in crunch time for a floater at the rim.

Game, Knicks. History says the series will follow suit.

The Knicks beat the 76ers, 97-92, to win Game 4 at the Wells Fargo Center on Sunday.

They have taken a commanding 3-1 series lead over the 76ers, who employ the NBA’s reigning Most Valuable Player Joel Embiid and a budding star in dynamic guard Tyrese Maxey.

Embiid played the entire second half, while Brunson went to the locker room at the end of the third quarter after taking a shot on an Embiid chase down block. He emerged from the tunnel to lead the Knicks to victory.

It was Brunson who received M-V-P chants on the road, and as hard as Sixers fans tried to drown them out with boos, they failed, as did their team.

“We’re a team, and we have a team of leaders, and then of course the way Jalen has responded to the challenge has been huge,” head coach Tom Thibodeau said after the game. “But not just Jalen. Everyone has embraced their role. And like I said, the challenge now is for us not to feel good about ourselves, to not change, to enjoy this for the moment, but tonight start getting ready for the next one.

“So we know the challenge that will be in front of us and we have to get a fourth win. So be ready for that.”

And of the 281 teams in NBA playoff history to take a 3-1 series lead, 268 of them — 95.4% — have gone on to win the series.

If the Knicks are to follow suit, as they are now positioned to do in the driver’s seat of this series, it will be because of Brunson, who is playing like the MVP candidate he became this season.

The first-time All-Star guard hung a legendary 47-point performance with Sixers legends Julius “Dr. J” Erving and Allen Iverson, as well as South Carolina Gamecocks women’s basketball head coach Dawn Staley watching baseline, cheering on the home team.

Brunson shot 18-of-34 from the field and dished 10 assists with only one turnover on the night, setting two Knick records: He surpassed Bernard King’s postseason mark of 46 points and became the first Knick in playoff history to record 30 points and 10 assists in back-to-back games.

King’s record stood for 40 years. Like the Sixers, it fell on Sunday.

“It’s pretty cool,” Brunson said after the game, “but unless [Bernard] comes back and helps us win the next game — I promise you I’ll think about [setting the record] later.”

Sunday marked his second successful scoring game against a Sixers defense that had his number in Games 1 and 2 at Madison Square Garden. Game 3’s 39-point performance fell on a disappointing 11-point loss, but Sunday would be different.

Sunday, Brunson became teflon.

“We needed it,” said Hart, who didn’t make a field goal in Sunday’s victory. “S–t. Starting small forward, power forward, whatever I am, where I didn’t make a shot. I was like Shaq at the free throw line. So we needed it. But no he played great offensively, aggressive. And that’s what we needed.”

OG Anunoby scored 16 points on 8-of-16 shooting from the field and added 14 rebounds, and Miles McBride added 13 points on 3-of-5 shooting from downtown off the bench.

The Knicks got little scoring elsewhere: Hart missed all seven of his shots, Donte DiVincenzo shot 3-of-11 and Precious Achiuwa missed all five of his attempts. Bojan Bogdanovic hurt his ankle in his first minute on the floor.

“You’ve got to give [the 76ers] a lot of credit first and foremost. They play hard and they play so well together, even when things look chaotic they’re in control. It’s a credit to them,” Brunson said after the game. “Somehow we just found a way, kept fighting, kept sticking together. We found a way. When it’s ugly and we can find a way to win like that, when we’re not playing perfect, it’s a plus for us, a plus for our confidence.”

But Hart added 17 rebounds and five assists and played elite defense all night. Achiuwa closed the game for Isaiah Hartenstein, who picked up his fifth foul late in the third quarter, and finished with a game-high plus-11 off the bench.

Embiid finished with 27 points, 10 rebounds, six assists, three steals and two blocks, and Maxey added 23 points and six assists.

The Knicks out-rebounded the Sixers, 52-32, despite missing Mitchell Robinson, a game-time scratch with a sprained left ankle.

“I think part of it is, you know, they got obviously their best player that they trust and and they’re okay with him taking 40 shots a game,” Embiid said after the game. “And I think most of the time when you are in rotation or when you trying to load up to make sure that he doesn’t get easy shots, that kind of gives them a lot of open lanes to just attack the offensive glass. And it almost seems like they just know he’s gonna shoot it. So they’re just getting ready to offensive rebound.”

The Knicks now have a chance to close out the series back at home with Game 5 looming on Tuesday.

“We’re not done yet,” said Brunson. “We’ve got to continue to have that pump up mentality and we’ve got to find a way to win another.”

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