Jalen Brunson’s 6-foot-2 frame doesn’t quite illustrate the towering presence he has for the New York Knicks as the franchise tries to salvage the Eastern Conference Semifinals in a do-or-die Game 6 in Miami tonight.
Nearly 12 months after signing a four-year, $104 million deal with the Knicks — considered by some to be an overspend at the time — Brunson is unquestionably the lightning rod for New York’s playoff progression hopes.
The braided Brunson was not interested in admiration in the moments after the Game 5 win at the Garden, nor for the media at his post-game press conference. His virtuosic performance of 38 points, nine rebounds and seven assists kept the Knicks’ season alive—at least for four more quarters.
Brunson played every second of Wednesday’s 112-103 win and was magical, along with Julius Randle and RJ Barrett, as New York’s three-man monster combined for 88 points.
“Nothing was said at all,” Brunson said when asked if there was a discussion with coach Tom Thibodeau about playing Game 5 in its entirety. “Whatever it takes. (I) was just trying to do everything I could to win. We did that, now it’s on to Game 6.’
Jalen Brunson has been the answer to the prayers of long-suffering Knicks fans this season
The 26-year-old keeps a relatively low profile and is engaged to his high school sweetheart
In addition to Brunson in Miami, his father will be Rick, a former Knicks player who is now an assistant on the team. He was hired by New York in June 2022 – a month prior to Brunson’s agreed move.
Brunson — and Knicks teammate Quentin Grimes — played a breathless 48 minutes on Wednesday, but the Heat can’t count on hopes that he’ll be wilted by the time he heads to court Friday night.
“The only thing I’m obsessed with is just my work ethic,” he shared SLAM in March. “If I’m always working, I’m always getting ready, then I never just have to get ready.
“You don’t have to get ready if you stay ready.”
Brunson’s 48th minute game was the first in this playoff series. Among active players in the NBA, Kevin Durant has played the most games over 48 minutes with 13. He is followed by LeBron James (12), Jimmy Butler (8) and Rajon Rondo (5), according to Statmuse. Since the start of the NBA season, op 21 times a player was on the field for 48 minutes or more.
It’s not uncommon in the playoffs when the series come to an end and, of course, reach overtime. Games like Friday are what Brunson stays ready for.
He averages 41.9 minutes (41.9) per game in the semifinals – ahead of Durant with 41.1 – and ranks fourth in average minutes since the playoffs began (39.8).
The 26-year-old has run 24.30km, averaging 3.07km per game in the semi-finals – more than any other player in the league.
New York survived its first elimination game, but must win a second tonight to stay alive
Jalen Brunson led the offense for the New York Knicks during their postseason run
Brunson and his fiancé – Ali Marks – have been dating since the pair were in high school
Given his role as New York’s playmaker, Brunson doesn’t have the average speed of his more explosive teammates. He ranks fifth on the Knicks and 12th overall among Knicks and Heat players, with a speed of 4.07 mph.
Brunson is fast enough, as evidenced by his ability to free himself from the clutches of Gabe Vincent and Kyle Lowry on Wednesday night, but athleticism has never been his greatest gift.
”How can I be creative? How can I unbalance my opponents?”, Brunson would often think when facing more genetically gifted opponents. “How can I use my intelligence versus their athleticism?” I’ve always been like this and it has worked. It brought me here.’
That “here” to him is the face of the New York Knicks franchise and the ushering in of a potential new dawn.
Brunson’s body may be the vessel for which he stunned Knicks fans during his first season with the team, but it’s his spirit—which is evident in his post-game demeanor—that propelled him to this point, and soon beyond its current status.
“When I step on the field, I have to be the best player I can be. And then we go back and watch (movie) and (it’s like), “How can I improve?” And that’s just been my mindset since I can remember.”
Such tenacity comes to watch his father for most of his nine-year professional career. Rick Brunson also played for the Trail Blazers, Celtics, Bulls, Raptors, Clippers, Sonics and Rockets in addition to his time with the Knicks from 1999-2000.
His move to the Knicks as coach a month before Jalen’s arrival certainly helped pave the way to the Big Apple.
Brunson may have joined the Knicks over criticism of his deal, but they’ve been silenced
Before agreeing a four-year, $104 million deal with Knicks, Brunson played five years at Dallas
Brunson’s father, Rick, previously played for the Knicks and is now an assistant coach for NY
“(He) never had a guaranteed contract,” Brunson told SLAM about his father. “I’m lucky enough to have a four-year warranty. If only I could work half as hard… I have to do something every day to get better.”
Brunson is by no means the flashiest guard in the game, it’s just not how he works despite being the poster boy for one of the NBA’s blueblood franchises. Routine is where he lives and thrives.
“I’m one of those guys that if you find a good restaurant, I could eat at that restaurant every time we go out,” Brunson shared. SLAMM last year when he was still a Dallas Maverick. “I think that puts your mind on the right track.
“I don’t do any shopping on race day. Sometimes I stop to get a cup of tea on my way to a game, but I try not to do anything that takes my mind off getting ready for the game. When I’m in that routine, I don’t think about anything. My mind is just free.’
Speak against RampageBrunson revealed some of his favorite restaurants in Manhattan, often spending time in Midtown for a post-game meal at the likes of Quality Italian and Sugarfish.
Brunson’s low-key lifestyle can be aided by off-field stability in the form of his fiancé, Ali Marks. The couple got engaged in 2022, with Brunson announcing the news on social media in September.
The Knicks star got down on one knee in the high school sweethearts’ old gymnasium at Stevenson High in Illinois.
Brunson became a legend during his three seasons with Villanova, winning the NCAA title twice
The 26-year-old proposed to his then-girlfriend at the high school where they met
He left the Mavericks after a career-best season and joined the Knicks in a move that cost them a second-round draft pick in 2025 after the NBA found them guilty of tampering.
The point guard began to establish himself as a rising star in Dallas before taking his talents to New York. Marc Cuban’s team drafted Brunson with the 33rd overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft after a stellar career with Villanova.
Brunson, a five-star high school recruit, committed to the Pennsylvania school and became a two-time national champion and college player of the year in 2018. Such was his impact in Villanova, Brunson’s No. 1 jersey retired in February . Sporting news even going so far as to name Brunson as college basketball player of the decade in 2019.
Five years after his most recent championship, Brunson continues to hunt for the NBA’s Larry O’Brien Trophy. Whether he has 48 minutes – or 38/9/7 performance – left to keep them in, only he knows.