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Jalen Brunson returns from foot injury to lead Knicks past Nikola Jokic, Nuggets 116-110

Jalen Brunson returned to the chants of ‘MVP’ in one of the best victories of this increasingly impressive Knicks campaign.

The point guard, emblematic of the Knicks’ resurgence this season, emerged from a three-game injury absence and punished the Nuggets with a 116-110 victory on Saturday in front of an enthusiastic crowd at Madison Square Garden.

Brunson scored 16 of his 24 points in the first quarter, then buried the Western Conference leaders with an alley-oop pass to Mitchell Robinson with 24 seconds remaining.

He clinched the Knicks (42-31) their highest season win total in a decade, surpassing 41 wins during the pandemic-shortened 2020-21 campaign. More important to the postseason ramifications, the Knicks moved two games ahead of the Nets for fifth place in the East.

“I’m enjoying it,” Josh Hart said. “I think we’re all enjoying it.”

After a great back and forth contest, the Knicks trailed by 13 points midway through the third quarter. They then took full control and outscored the Nuggets, 45-26, over the final 18 minutes.

“I think the fourth quarter was our best,” Tom Thibodeau said. “I liked the way we started the game. I didn’t like the way we played in the second quarter, but I thought we came back pretty solid in the third quarter. In the fourth quarter we were at our best. There were several people doing many things well”.

Two-time MVP Nikola Jokic filled the stat sheet as usual with 24 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists. But he was outplayed in the final three minutes by Robinson, who added a pivotal steal from Jokic to his game-sealing dunk.

It felt like a touching performance after Robinson complained about his role on offense earlier this week. Robinson made just four shots on Saturday, but closing out a win against the best team in the West has a way of creating good vibes.

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“We trust ourselves,” Robinson said. “We feel like we can beat anyone.”

Jalen Brunson has the Knicks faithful on their feet in the Garden.

The Nuggets (47-24) might have been ready for the pick while losing for the fifth time in their last six games, but the Knicks also found ways to capitalize by grabbing 15 offensive rebounds.

Brunson broke the tie with a shot into the paint with three minutes to go. About two minutes later, he stepped up to the free throw line and was showered with chants of ‘MVP’.

“It’s special,” Brunson said. “I’m happy we won and it’s a great fan base to play with and I appreciate it, but I’ve got a long way to go before then.”

Josh Hart, who was also a teammate of Brunson’s in college, was more expansive about the meaning.

“It’s really cool for me to see, obviously, knowing him since 2014, to see his progression, to see him grow as a friend, it’s amazing because I’ve seen the work behind the scenes,” Hart said. “And he knows this and I have the greatest respect for him as almost any NBA player or basketball player in general because he continues to push himself, continues to work.

“I think the most important thing that sums that up is that he’s about to enter free agency, lucky enough to sign the biggest contract of his career that’s going to help his family for a long time and we’re both at Villanova and he It’s there at 6 or 7 in the morning, it beat me there. And this is someone who, like I said, is about to sign an incredible contract, is still ready to work, still wants to work, still hungry to work. To me, man, it’s amazing to watch. I have seen the work. And that’s what he does.”

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