NEW YORK (AP) – Jalen Brunson took the blame when the Knicks dropped the opener of the Eastern Conference semifinals and insisted he needed to be better in Game 2.
Halfway through, it appeared he wasn’t.
Struggling again with his shot and this time a sore right ankle as well, Brunson told himself he needed to fight through it.
“Just kind of had to find a way to be mentally tough,” he said. “Go out there and do it.”
He did, getting New York back to even in the series.
Brunson scored 30 points yesterday and keyed the run the Knicks needed just in time for a 111-105 victory over a Miami Heat team playing without Jimmy Butler.
Julius Randle returned from a sprained left ankle that sidelined him in Game 1 with 25 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists, and RJ Barrett scored 16 of his 24 points in the first quarter for the number five seeded Knicks.
Josh Hart finished with 14 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists.
Brunson, who was zero for seven from three-point range in the opener, who made the biggest plays after going just one for six for seven points in the first half.
Caleb Martin scored 22 points in place of Butler for the Heat, who host Game 3 on Sunday.
They will hope to have Butler, the leading scorer in the playoffs who sat out after spraining his right ankle late in their 108-101 victory in the opener.
They almost didn’t need him.
Miami had a six-point lead midway through the fourth quarter thanks to undrafted players Martin and Gabe Vincent before Brunson, who had been listed as questionable after feeling ankle pain at the end of Game 1, took over.
He made a three-pointer that became a four-point play when Isaiah Hartenstein was fouled on the play, and the point guard then scored to knot it at 93.
The Heat went back up 96-93 on Vincent’s three free throws, but Hart tied it with a three before Brunson hit a three and scored again to make it 101-96 with 2:48 remaining.
Brunson went six of 10 behind the arc.