Jalen Brunson leads Knicks past Wizards thanks to 41-point gem


The Knicks’ bench was depleted anyway Thursday night with the absence of Josh Hart, but Tom Thibodeau stuck with four of his five starters — all but OG Anunoby — for the entire third quarter on the tail end of back-to-back games with the Knicks trailing one of the worst teams in the NBA.

Thibodeau eventually rested his starters for a brief period early in the fourth, before Jalen Brunson took over the game and bailed out the Knicks, who eventually pulled out a too-close 113-109 win over the lowly Wizards at the Garden to open the second half of their 82-game schedule.

Brunson poured in 20 of his game-high 41 points in the final quarter, while Julius Randle finished with 21 for the Knicks (25-17).

“It must be a Villanova thing,” Brunson — who added eight assists and eight rebounds — quipped during his on-court interview after the game, which was billed as “Villanova Night” at MSG.

Jalen Brunson, who scored 41 points, celebrates during the Knicks’ 113-109 win over the Wizards. Charles Wenzelberg / New York Post

Anunoby and Donte DiVincenzo contributed 19 points apiece as the Knicks improved to 18-0 this season against teams that began play Thursday with a losing record.

(The Knicks had lost in Utah earlier in the season but the streaking Jazz have since moved above the .500 mark with a six-game winning streak).

With Hart (knee soreness) sidelined for the first time this season, Thibodeau inserted Evan Fournier into the nine-man rotation for only his third appearance of the season.

But the 31-year-old Fournier, who the Knicks have been unable to trade despite his $18.9 million expiring contract, was held scoreless on 0-for-4 shooting in six minutes of action.

Julius Randle, who scored 21 points, drives on Tyus Jones during the Knicks’ win over the Wizards. USA TODAY Sports via Reuters Con

Jordan Poole scored 24 points and Marvin Bagley III had 20 for the Wizards, who have dropped eight of nine to fall to 7-33 overall.

Randle netted 10 early points, including two makes from 3-point land, as the Knicks doubled up the visitors, 20-10 in the first eight minutes of the game.

Still, the Wizards closed the quarter on a 12-2 spurt to draw even at 22-22, with Deni Avdija finishing the session with a team-high eight points.

Minus Hart, the Knicks’ second unit missed nine of 10 field-goal attempts in the first half — including an 0-for-4 showing by Fournier and 0-for-3 by recently rumored trade chip Quentin Grimes.

Donte DiVincenzo, who scored 19 points, puts up a floater during the Knicks’ victory over the Wizards. Charles Wenzelberg / New York Post

Washington actually seized a six-point advantage with five minutes remaining before halftime, but Brunson buried a 3-pointer and managed a traditional three-point play to help the Knicks retake the lead.

Brunson finished the half with 16 points and Randle had 12, but the Knicks missed 17 of 21 attempts from 3-point range through two quarters and nursed a 56-55 lead into intermission.

Anunoby and DiVincenzo nailed treys in the opening two minutes of the third to help the Knicks extend the cushion to five.

OG Anunoby, who scored 19 points, drives past Deni Avdija during the Knicks’ win over the Wizards. USA TODAY Sports via Reuters Con

Another triple by Anunoby reopened the lead to nine midway through the quarter, but the Knicks let the Wizards rattle off 13 of the next 16 points to grab a 69-68 lead.

A late bucket in the paint by Hartenstein (17 rebounds) put the Knicks back up by one, however, and triggered an 11-3 spurt bridging the final two quarters for an 82-75 lead with 10 minutes left.

Brunson, Randle, Hartenstein and DiVincenzo went the distance in the third.

Brunson sank 11 straight Knicks points during one four-minute stretch later in the fourth, as the Knicks closed out their eighth win in 10 games with Anunoby in the lineup since his Dec. 30 acquisition from Toronto.

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