Knicks star Jalen Brunson suffered 'knee flu' against Cavaliers, Tom Thibodeau says

CLEVELAND — The New York Knicks went home Sunday night feeling better about themselves, and luckier, thanks to star guard Jalen Brunson's prognosis.

The evening may have veered in a different and more depressing direction.

Despite losing Brunson to a left knee injury, the Knicks beat the Cleveland Cavaliers 107-98, which was certainly worse than the team is now saying. Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau called it a “knee mess” after the game and said X-rays taken at Cleveland Arena were negative.

“Anytime someone goes through that, you have concerns,” Thibodeau said. “But then he felt a bit better. He had an X-ray. The doctors checked him out, so the news is good.

There was a time long ago when the vibes weren't so positive.

Immediately after leaving the court in Cleveland, Brunson urged doctors not to rule him out for the game, even though he could no longer walk under his own power. A team trainer and Precious Achiua assisted the All-Star as he navigated the bench and tunnel.

The point guard went back to the locker room and tested how much pressure he could put on his left leg if he could jump. The Knicks initially announced Brunson's return as questionable. Once they realized he was in too much pain to compete, they announced he was out.

New York's players, borderline jubilant in the visitors' locker room postgame, were also told that Brunson's injury did not appear to be serious after the season's gutsy victory.

“I asked him if he was OK and he said he was going to be OK,” Donte DiVincenzo said. “That's everything to me. … I don't care about Jalen. He's one of the toughest guys in the league.

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The timetable for Branson's injury is still unclear. The Knicks next play at home against the Atlanta Hawks on Tuesday. Two consecutive off days follow before they host the Orlando Magic.

When asked if it was possible Brunson would play in the Atlanta game, Thibodeau shrugged as if to say it was too early to tell.

“I guess,” he guessed. “It was a knee joint and everything was negative, so we'll see where he is tomorrow.”

On the Knicks' first possession Sunday night, Brunson lofted a jump shot from the left wing toward the foul line, kicking both feet sideways as he went up. Brunson was clutching his knee before landing, and there was no apparent contact by Cavs defender Isaac Okoro to indicate the injury. Brunson bounced a few times before falling down the court and exited for good with 11:13 left in the opening quarter.

A possible cause of the injury was that seconds before Brunson went down, he wrapped around a screen by teammate Isaiah Hardenstein and appeared to accidentally crash his knees into center. But Brunson ended up curling around the screen, catching the ball and moving before taking a knee in midair.

When pressed about it after the game, Hardenstein wasn't sure if he had knocked knees with Brunson or not.

“I don't think so,” he said. “I saw him running on video. I didn't feel much.

Because of the injury, Branson did not speak to the media following the game.

Brunson, 27, a first-time All-Star this season, averaged 27.7 points and 6.7 assists — both career highs. Miles McBride entered the game for Brunson, 47 seconds into the game, and never trailed. He finished with 16 points and five assists. DiVincenzo led the depleted Knicks with 28 points and six 3-pointers, while Josh Hart had a triple-double with 13 points, 19 rebounds and 10 assists. The Knicks (36-25) are in fourth place in the East.

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This rematch of last year's first-round playoff series between the Cavs and Knicks has already lost some serious luster, with New York missing Julius Randle, OG Anunoby and Mitchell Robinson — rehabbing major injuries — and Cleveland without Donovan Mitchell and Carys LeVert. Due to minor injuries.

Brunson's absence left four Knicks starters sidelined for a matchup with one of the best and hottest teams in the league. Of course, New York is used to this. Injuries plagued the Knicks all season.

Hardenstein came in and out of the lineup with Achilles tendinopathy. Bojan Bogdanovic missed the game a few weeks ago with a calf injury. DiVincenzo sat out that same evening with a hamstring. Earlier this week, Brunson was unable to dress for a loss to the New Orleans Pelicans due to neck spasms.

“It's really been the story of the season,” Thibodeau said. “We have been fighting briefly since December, so keep fighting. That's all we can do,” he said.

Randle, an All-Star, has been out since Jan. 29 with a dislocated right shoulder. He and Robinson (since Dec. 11 – ankle surgery) both made the trip to Cleveland with the Knicks, and Randle worked out on the court again Sunday morning and before the game.

“He's making really good progress, so we're hoping that happens soon,” Thibodeau Randle said. “You've got to make sure that medically the doctors feel good about it; he feels good about it. And then once that happens – he does everything. He's had some small interactions, but nothing with a player yet. So it's going to be the next step.”

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The Cavs, who fell to 3-4 after the All-Star break and fell out of second place with the loss, got 21 points off the bench from Sam Merrill. Darius Garland finished with 19 points and Jared Allen had 18 points. They lost the season series 2-1 to New York, a disappointing result for a franchise determined to show it had evolved after a gentlemanly sweep at the hands of the Knicks.

“I think we let our defense down,” Cavs coach JP Bickerstaff said. “We prepared for the game in a way, and without him (Brunson), we thought it would be a little bit easier and let our defense down. They had different guys contribute and make plays, and you give NBA players with talent late and they're going to bite you in the ass.

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(Photo: Tim Nwachukwu / Getty Images)

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