And while Brunson was a less splashy addition than Mitchell would have been, he has excelled with his new team. Heading into Tuesday’s game, he was averaging 22.5 points and 6.3 assists. In January, he had averaged 28.3 points a game, and scored more than 30 five times, including a 44-point effort in a close loss to the Milwaukee Bucks.
“One thing I’ve learned and stayed consistent with is no matter what happens outside those lines, nothing really affects me,” Brunson said. He added, “Obviously playing in New York it’s a bigger stage, eyes always on you, but I just try my best not to worry about that.”
With his help, the Knicks won eight consecutive games in December, climbing from 10th place in the East to sixth during that streak.
There have been lulls, too. Tuesday’s win snapped a four-game losing streak, and the Knicks are figuring out how to fill a hole left by their injured starting center Mitchell Robinson.
It’s all still a work in progress, but Tuesday night they closed out a game, where on other nights they might not have. They fought back after falling behind by 8 points in the third quarter.
“How you get the urgency to get that done?” Thibodeau pondered, rhetorically, after the game. “Not to get discouraged, to just get more determined.”
As Thibodeau sees it, the answer is a focus on little unglamorous things — securing an offensive rebound, going after a loose ball, deflecting a pass.
“Just keep concentrating on the improvement; everyone put the team first,” Thibodeau said. “And we know this is — we’ve got a long way to go.”