Jalen Brunson is undoubtedly talented, but so are many players who make it to the upper tiers of NBA stardom.

What sets him apart is a killer instinct that inspires his teammates to put on their best effort, and that leadership now has the New York Knicks just one win away from reaching the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since the year 2000.


Perhaps fittingly, their opponents in that series 24 years ago were also the Indiana Pacers, who won the series 4-2 to book their ticket to the NBA Finals and a date with the Shaq and Kobe-led Lakers.

Since then, the Knicks have been pretty awful. They’ve only made the playoff eight times and only made it past the first round three times. Two of those times have been with Brunson at the helm of their offense, and the last time before that was 11 years ago.

In Game 5, Brunson was at his hard-charging best once more. After losing Game 121-89, many thought that injuries were too much for the Knicks to overcome.

Instead of giving up, Brunson said ‘fuck it’ and torched the Pacers for 44 points, four rebounds and seven assists while shooting 18 of 35 from the field. That was more than enough in the 121-91 Game 5 win, adding to Brunson’s legend in a city that has been starved of good basketball for a long, long time.


It’s the kind of story that even fans outside of New York can appreciate, because what the Knicks are showing is a capacity for grit even while missing two of their top three players in Julius Randle and OG Anunoby. Randle has been out since the end of January, while Anunoby went down with a hamstring strain in Game 2 and doesn’t have a clear timetable for a return.

Even with all that adversity, the Knicks are just one win away from breaking that drought. Although plenty of roleplayers like Isaiah Hartenstein, Josh Hart, Donte DiVincenzo and Alec Burks have had their moments in these playoffs, there’s no doubt that Brunson is currently the beating heart of New York City basketball.

The Pacers have a great shot of taking Game 6, as they’ve been pretty good at home, but taking a Game 7 from Brunson in front of a raucous Madison Square Garden crowd is a tough ask. The Knicks have fought and clawed their way to get this far, and the will to win often decides a close series like this one. When it comes to a test of wills, I’m taking the Knicks.