Knicks’ Jalen Brunson, Quentin Grimes prove to be difference makers in win over Raptors

Jan 6, 2023; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; New York Knicks guard Jalen Brunson (11) drives to the basket over Toronto Raptors forward Pascal Siakam (43) during the second quarter at Scotiabank Arena.
Jan 6, 2023; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; New York Knicks guard Jalen Brunson (11) drives to the basket over Toronto Raptors forward Pascal Siakam (43) during the second quarter at Scotiabank Arena. / Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

The Knicks got their revenge on Pascal Siakam and the Toronto Raptors on Friday night.

Last time these two teams faced off was back in December at MSG where Siakam had a career-high 52 points on 17-of-25 shooting to end New York’s eight-game winning streak. Friday night, a 112-108 win in Toronto, Siakam had just 18 points on 4-of-14 shooting.

What was the difference? Quentin Grimes and Jalen Brunson.

Grimes wasn’t available in that December matchup as he was nursing an ankle sprain. On Friday, he contributed 16 points but it was his defense on the Raptors’ bigger players that helped the Knicks keep Toronto in relative check.

Coach Tom Thibodeau made sure to give his second-year player his due after the game.

“I don't want to overlook [Grimes’] contribution either just because in this situation you have to guard a lot of guys with size,” he said. “And sometimes he was on their guards who are quick and dynamic with the ball."

“And then other times, he was on Siakam or [O.G] Anunoby or [Scottie] Barnes and those guys post different problems. I thought he held his ground. I thought he battled. He hit some timely shots for us. He's playing real aggressive and hard, and it gives us a different tone to our team.”

According to Thibs, he says Grimes’ feet and strength gave him confidence to put him up against Siakam on a lot of possessions Friday. But he also knew the rest of the team would help if needed.

With a guy like Siakam I thought, ‘you're not guarding those type of players individually, we have to guard them with our team,’” he said. “So the guy on them has the challenge of competing for everything, the catch, the dribble, the shot and then the team has to also help. I thought we got in and we got out and I thought that was huge for us too.”

And then there was Brunson. The first-year Knick and the prize acquisition of New York’s last offseason came through against the Raptors on Friday.

His 26 points, eight assists and five rebounds was a great complement to Julius Randle’s 32-point barrage. In their other matchup, Brunson scored just seven points on 3-of-14 shooting. Although he had 12 assists, he turned the ball over five times.

Down the stretch on Friday was where Brunson was most valuable for the Knicks.

“He was great closing it out for us” Randle told MSG on the floor after the game. ”Whether it was a shot, the and-one or closing it out on the free-throw line he was big.”

Thibodeau agrees with his star player, calling Brunson’s fourth-quarter performance huge, but praised the overall effort of his team in that final frame.

“I thought the start of the fourth, the bench was terrific. [Immanuel] Quickley, Evan [Fournier], Isaiah [Hartenstein], Mitchell [Robinson] was in there with them, and they were getting blitzed,” Thibodeau explained. “Quick got going with the pick and roll, and they were playing very unselfishly and bought us some time, but also gave us a cushion. And then when the starters came back, Jalen and Julius, they were terrific down the stretch.”

The win Friday extended the Knicks’ winning streak to four games and they’ll have a couple of days off before returning home to host the Milwaukee Bucks on Monday.

New York could put the NBA on notice with a victory against the powerful Milwaukee Bucks on Monday , but to do that they’ll need high-quality defense from Grimes and Brunson to be their closer.