Jalen Brunson was unstoppable on the Knicks’ trip out west, and his leadership was crucial to them picking up some much-needed wins.

“Down on the West Coast, they love their movies

Their golden gods and rock and roll groupies

And you’ve got the music, you’ve got the music

In you, don’t you?”

I have not been able to get the above song, or lyrics, out of my head this past week.

Though I doubt Lana del Rey had Jalen Brunson in mind when making this song – which is fair, since it dropped in 2014 while Brunson was playing for Villanova – it’s all I’ve heard and interpolated with the absolute dominance that Brunson displayed during the New York Knicks’ most recent west coast trip. 

Brunson, along with the rest of the team, could’ve easily rolled over after their win against the lottery-bound Portland Trailblazers that kicked off the trip. They had OG Anunoby back for a time, sure, but it would have been fair to assume some losses to the Sacramento Kings and Golden State Warriors on the trip, two teams that have been Achilles heels to this club whenever they go hunting out west. 

Instead, Brunson and the Knicks fairly steadily won those two games against the perennial thorns in their side, defeating two clubs fighting for postseason positioning – and the postseason in general, in the Warriors’ case – and helping to ease the pain that was a weird loss to the Denver Nuggets after two very contentious quarters immediately followed by a Michael Porter Jr. masterclass to sour the occasion. 

One thing that I think I, along with other watchers of the team, keep forgetting is just how great Brunson is, and how that greatness can carry this team over almost any opponent in the league. That’s a luxury that only a few Eastern Conference teams can flex: the Jays of the Boston Celtics, the arachnid of the Cleveland Cavaliers, and occasionally Playoff Jimmy of the Miami Heat. Brunson’s poise in situations where the team could easily just hand an opponent a win has impacted not only his rise to stardom but the teams’ newfound status as borderline contenders. Only clubs that are bound for a deep run have the capacity to squelch their opponents’ momentum at the drop of a hat and Brunson, and this New York team, have done this numerous times this season. 

On this trip in particular, though, Brunson was astounding. Averaging 36.8 points per game on 51 percent shooting along with 5.5 assists and three boards, he made it seem like his 26-point performance in their single loss on the trip to the Denver Nuggets was a dud. That’s a privilege, to be able to witness such a tear from a player and think, “Yeah, but I’m bored of this performance style.” 

His three-point shot was especially comforting to see make a slight return, as his numbers in that department prior to the trip were starting to drop back below the 40 percent mark he was hitting throughout the first half of the season. Julius Randle’s gravity and ability to kick out passes consistently to Brunson were a huge part of why his three-point shot was such a sure thing, and without his presence, Brunson has struggled to make his own threes on drives up the floor in transition. Over the four-game stretch out west, he hit those deep shots at a clip of 33 percent, an ugly efficiency when considering his prowess from beyond the arc to start the year. But he hit those shots when it mattered, which should honestly count for double towards his percentages (a good reason why I am not a part of the NBA’s statistics department). 

If the Knicks can get this sort of Brunson for the rest of the season – that is to say, a Brunson that could make noise for both himself as the regular season comes to a close and awards come to the forefront of media members’ minds, and noise for his teammates that so clearly take pride in playing alongside him and play better as a result of that pride – they have a chance of finally harnessing a good west coast trip to sail through their mostly manageable schedule remaining until basketball “with meaning” begins. Despite injuries piling up, and despite the league’s noticeably more lax approach to defense leading to fewer calls for the small guard, he pulled New York up and through a trudge across the time zones. 

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