Brunson Carries Knicks into No. 2 Seed in Eastern Conference, Scores 40 Points in OT Win over Bulls

NEW YORK (AP) — Jalen Brunson didn’t know where things stood around the NBA as the Knicks were deep into their final game of the regular season.

A win meant the No. 2 seed and a loss was going to keep them at No. 3. But Tom Thibodeau’s team doesn’t worry about who it plays next week. It just wants to beat the one in front of them that day.

“I think when you have competitors, it doesn’t matter. Competitors compete,” Thibodeau said.

That mentality drove Brunson to one of the best regular seasons in franchise history, which he capped with his 11th 40-point game to carry the Knicks into the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference with a 120-119 overtime victory over the Chicago Bulls on Sunday.

The Knicks finished 50-32, their best season since going 54-28 and also earning a No. 2 seed in 2012-13. They moved past Milwaukee after the Bucks lost earlier Sunday in Orlando, and will await the winner of the play-in game between Philadelphia and Miami on Wednesday.

“It’s a goal to be the best team we can be by the end of the year, and for us now it’s just move on from that,” Brunson said. “It’s something to be crossed off and have to get better from here.”

Brunson finished with 40 points, eight rebounds and seven assists, and tied Patrick Ewing for the second-most 40-point games in one season by a Knicks player. Hall of Famer Bernard King did it 13 times in 1984-85, when he set a franchise record with 32.9 points per game.

Brunson finished up at 28.7, tying Carmelo Anthony for third. His 36 30-point games tied Richie Guerin (1961-62) and Ewing (1989-90) for the most in Knicks history.

Donte DiVincenzo added 25 points for the Knicks while playing all but 30 seconds of the 53-minute game.

DeMar DeRozan scored 30 points for the Bulls, but one of the NBA’s best clutch finishers missed a short jumper with 2.8 seconds remaining in OT. Nic Vucevic added 29 points and 11 rebounds, and Coby White scored 26 points.

Chicago finished ninth in the East at 39-43 and will host No. 10 Atlanta on Wednesday. If they win that, the Bulls will have to beat the winner of the No. 7 vs. No. 8 game on the road Friday to earn the No. 8 seed in the playoffs.

Despite having one of the only playoff scenarios that was determined going into the final day of the regular season, the Bulls opted to play their healthy players throughout the game, and DeRozan said he was angry about his missed shot that ultimately meant nothing to his team.

“Everybody out there wanted to win,” DeRozan said. “So I don’t know, it just felt like one of those games like we were playing for something, and we are.”

Coach Billy Donovan said Ayo Dosunmu (bruised right quadricep) and Andre Drummond (sprained left ankle) were both still feeling pain and discomfort and was unsure if either would be ready for Wednesday’s win-or-out game.

Milwaukee and Cleveland both lost when they had a track to the No. 2 seed, with a matchup against the defending East champion Heat or a healthy Joel Embiid and the 76ers not exactly a reward for that finish.

But the Knicks played it out and won their final five games, finishing higher in the standings than when they lost All-Star Julius Randle for the season in January.

“You don’t have to wind these guys up and that’s what I love about them,” Thibodeau said. “Sometimes we’re not going to be perfect, we’ll make some mistakes, but they’re going to compete and I think that’s important.”

The Knicks played the second half without center Mitchell Robinson, who recently returned from ankle surgery. Thibodeau said he was told during the game that Robinson was unavailable for the second half but didn’t know the details.

By BRIAN MAHONEY AP Basketball Writer


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