Jalen Brunson is a serious MVP candidate

MILWAUKEE — This is nothing new.

Not for a Bucks team unable to stop Jalen Brunson from scoring all season nor for a Knicks team with front-row seats to one of the best shows in basketball.

It’s Brunson’s MVP campaign coming to an arena near you, and while it might be difficult to make a case for the Knicks’ All-Star guard to win the award outright, it’s clear he belongs in the conversation.

It’s hard to find five players having a better season than Brunson, who led the Knicks to a come-from-behind victory over the Eastern Conference’s No. 2-seeded Bucks on their own FiServ Forum floors on Sunday night.

Just another day at the office for a guard whose ascent to stardom has reached a crescendo when it matters most at the end of the season.

“I see him play like that all the time,” said starting center Mitchell Robinson. “It’s great. It gives us a chance to win.”

Brunson scored 43 points on 50 percent shooting in the victory for the Knicks, who handed the Bucks their fourth straight loss and sixth defeat in their last seven games while simultaneously snapping their own skid of four losses in New York’s previous five games.

Brunson scored 17 of the Knicks’ first 25 points and tallied 23 points by the half before the Bucks deployed a variety of defensive tactics, all of which proved futile after a 10-point Milwaukee halftime advantage morphed into a 122-109 victory for the Knicks.

“We trapped him. It was effective,” said Bucks head coach Doc Rivers. “We were in a drop a lot. I thought that hurt us. Overall we switched some and then tried to Omaha (trap him).

“You just watch him, man. He has seen every coverage. You can see that. Hell of a player, and his conditioning level is just off the charts.”

Brunson is now averaging 37.2 points per game against the Bucks this season. The star Knicks guard has four games with 36 or more points, including Sunday’s 43-point night and a 45-point game from November.

In short, he has the Bucks’ number — an important note given Sunday’s victory puts a Knicks-Bucks second-round playoff series in play.

The Knicks are now tied with the Orlando Magic for the Eastern Conference’s No. 3 seed, but the Magic hold the tiebreaker holding a 3-1 record in the season series.

If the Knicks and Bucks finish second and third and each advance past the first round, they will face each other in Round 2, where a Milwaukee team incapable of defending the point of attack could face their kryptonite head-on.

“I don’t know, the ball goes through the hoop against them,” Brunson said after the game. “I’m averaging 37 but we’re 2-3 (against the Bucks this season). Before tonight we were 1-3. So no matter what the points were, we weren’t getting wins. Obviously tonight we found a way to win. But their game plan was working for the first four games.”

It’s not just the Bucks.

Brunson’s teammates are shouting it from the rooftops. Yes, the star Knicks guard is taking advantage of Damian Lillard on the defensive end — but Brunson’s MVP campaign isn’t headquartered in Cream City.

It’s a rogue operation with pop-ups in all 30 NBA cities.

Brunson is averaging 37 points against the dismal Bucks, but he had 35 points in each of the Knicks’ prior two games and 61 points in a March 29 loss to the San Antonio Spurs.

His 37.2 points per game against the Bucks, in fact, are not the most he’s averaging against a single team this season: Brunson is averaging 38.5 points in two games against the Sacramento Kings, 43 points against the Spurs, skewed heavily by the 61-ball; and 42.5 points against the Phoenix Suns.

“The thing is, he’s scored big all season,” head coach Tom Thibodeau said after the game. “He’s gonna be loaded up on. They’re gonna be blitzing him. They’re gonna be firing at him. And then more often than not, he’s got a primary defender on him, usually a guy with size. But he’s shifty. He knows how to create space. And our guys do a good job of trying to get him open and getting him a second look into the open floor downhill into space — and that’s where he’s impossible to guard.”

Starting Knicks center Isaiah Hartenstein was in the middle of explaining how Brunson is taking what the defense gives him when Donte DiVincenzo interrupted from two lockers down to say: “He’s f——g nice!”

Hartenstein agreed.

“That too: He’s cold, too,” he said. “That’s definitely a big part.”

Brunson agrees with Rivers’ assertion: As the lead guard on a playoff-bound Knicks team, and as a player who’s taken the leap to All-Star status, he’s seen all kinds of exotic defensive coverage designed to get the ball out of his hands.

When the Bucks began trapping heavier in the second half, Brunson beat them with the pass for eight assists on the night.

“Reading and reacting. Obviously understanding what they’re trying to do and putting people in position to be successful,” he explained. “And I know I have a lot of guys on this team that can make plays in the middle of the floor. So if they put two on the ball, I know I can get off it and they can make a play. If I relocate and the defense shades to my side, I know whoever has the ball will make the right play.”

And now, Brunson is gaining traction in the MVP debate. This year’s race appears to be between two standout contenders: Denver’s Nikola Jokic and DallasLuka Doncic. Oklahoma City’s Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has a case, as does Jayson Tatum, the best player on a Boston Celtics team with the league’s best record.

Five players can be listed on any MVP ballot. An All-NBA team appears to be a lock, but when it rains, it pours: MVP consideration is on the table.

“(Being in the mix for fifth place) means nothing to me,” Brunson said with a smile.

The only thing that matters to the star Knicks guard is the team and just how many games they can win. A big scoring night no longer fazes the All-Star guard, nor does it impress his teammates.

His teammates have come to expect this kind of performance. It’s the best show on display at Madison Square Garden, and the FiServ Forum hosted another Brunson masterclass on Sunday.

“I don’t think it’s just the matchup against the Bucks. He’s been doing it all year,” said DiVincenzo. “He just had 35 two straight games in a row, so that’s kind of my answer: He does it against everybody. He’s making the right plays. He’s making the right reads, and when he’s aggressive, everybody else goes along with him.”