Home News Jalen Brunson punctuates 44-point Game 5 masterpiece with ankle-breaker on Aaron Nesmith

Jalen Brunson punctuates 44-point Game 5 masterpiece with ankle-breaker on Aaron Nesmith

Aaron Nesmith fell, but the bucket didn’t.

It’s Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals between the Knicks and Indiana Pacers, the 8:54 mark of the fourth quarter to be precise, and Jalen Brunson, in this moment, decides to turn on the jets.

Brunson, who has 36 points at this juncture of the game, has fully debunked the notion that Nesmith, a 6-6, 215-pound defensive pest for the Pacers, has his number.

On this possession, Brunson recovers a defensive rebound, and Nesmith backpedals as the Knicks’ star guard advances the ball.

Brunson reaches half court with the ball in his right hand and accelerates into a hesitation crossover left to throw Nesmith off-balance.

What happens next brings Madison Square Garden to its feet, and Nesmith, in comical fashion, to a knee.

Brunson goes behind the back, and Nesmith reaches for the ball, only to first come up empty, and then touch earth, a game of live-action Twister played on The Garden’s hardwood floors.

Then Brunson darts by his downed opponent and hoists a floater over Pacers forward Pascal Siakam.

Unlike his other 17 made shots in a 44-point, 35-attempt masterpiece on Tuesday night, however, the ball does not go through the net on this shot.

Instead, it bounces off of three different parts of the rim, plus the backboard, before Pacers forward Isaiah Jackson saves the day, tapping the ball off the iron and earning a goaltending violation — count the bucket — even though Brunson’s shot would have otherwise missed, and thus undone the assault performed Nesmith’s ankles.

Because if you don’t make the shot, no matter how nasty the crossover, then the crossover itself never happened.

“I missed a layup, and I got bailed out by him touching the ball on the rim,” Brunson recalled after the game. “It doesn’t count.”

The crowd sure counted it, erupting for one of Brunson’s signature playoff moments at The Garden, where the Knicks seized a 3-2 series lead via a 30-point victory and now have a chance to close the Pacers in six — or seven — courtesy of Brunson’s surgical disassembly of Nesmith on Tuesday night.

The NBA counted the bucket, too: it’s listed as a driving floating jump shot from one foot away from the rim, one of nine made shots on 17 attempts Brunson took with Nesmith as his primary defender in Game 5.

Brunson shot just 16-of-43 from the field for 44 points in Games 3 and 4 combined after Pacers head coach Rick Carlisle made the defensive adjustment to move away from the sticky 6-3 Andrew Nembhard as Brunson’s primary defensive matchup to Nesmith, who has a glaring size and strength advantage defending the point of attack.

Brunson diagnosed the situation, then prescribed more buckets. Now, the Knicks are one win away from their first Eastern Conference Finals appearance since 2000.

“[Jalen] just being Jalen,” starting Knicks center Isaiah Hartenstein said with a smile at his locker after the Game 5 win. “I think he’s mentally really strong. I think him coming back, him —  as crazy as it sounds — him not forcing anything, and he was still, when they doubled, he got off the ball. He made the right reads, I’m always confident when I have Jalen on the court.”

And it’s the same thing the All-NBA hopeful executed to lead the Knicks to victory in the first round against the Philadelphia 76ers.

The Sixers continued a regular-season trend of using 6-8 wings Kelly Oubre Jr. and Nic Batum both to alter Brunson’s shot motion and throw him out of rhythm guarding him the full 94-foot length of the court.

Brunson shot just 16-of-55 for 46 points in Games 1 and 2 against the Sixers.

He then torched them for 41.8 points on 53.6% shooting from the field to close Philadelphia in six games on its own home floor.

Brunson just shredded the Pacer defense, and Nesmith specifically, after a pair of games where Nesmith appeared a dominant defender for this matchup, only for his ankles to be reduced to ash in a moment sure to live on in Garden lore, even if Brunson won’t count it.

“He’ll always figure it out. … He’s a really smart player,” Hartenstein continued. “So I feel like he’ll always figure out how to adjust, and it’s our job to make his life easier by being more physical and getting easier looks.”


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