Brunson’s pep talk inspires big Game 2 rebound

    Nick Friedell is the Chicago Bulls beat reporter for ESPN Chicago. Friedell is a graduate of the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University and joined for its launch in April 2009.

NEW YORK — Jalen Brunson said he was feeling the weight of expectations as he struggled to find any rhythm at the start of Game 2 of the Eastern Conference semifinals Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden.

Brunson, who called his play “horrific” following an 0-for-7 display from 3-point range in Game 1, started Tuesday by going 1 for 6 from the field against a Jimmy Butler-less Miami Heat squad. But that’s when Brunson looked within and turned around his bad night.

“Honest to God, I started not to feel sorry for myself,” he said. “I said, ‘I’m out here and just let’s go hoop.’ That’s pretty much it.”

He did just that, finishing with 30 points, while knocking down crucial shots down the stretch as the Knicks collected a series-tying 111-105 victory before heading to Miami for Game 3 on Saturday. Yet again during this postseason, the Knicks followed the lead set by the 26-year-old point guard.

“That’s who he is, great leader, great toughness,” Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said. “He never disappoints you. Sometimes we can fall short, but there’s no quit in him. Never quits on a play. So can’t say enough about that.”

The Knicks also couldn’t say enough about All-Star forward Julius Randle, who returned Tuesday after missing close to a week with a left ankle injury he aggravated during a Game 5 series-clinching win last week over the Cleveland Cavaliers. Randle acknowledged after the game how difficult the mental aspect of his rehab has been.

“It was hell,” he said. “Just every day around the clock, trying to get my body right. I don’t have a problem doing the work, mentally it’s a grind, though. But I just want to make myself available to the team … just happy that I was able to be out there and contribute and help us get a win.”

Randle deflected any conversation about how the ankle was feeling after the game, preferring to focus on the fact that he hopes he’ll be out there each night moving forward.

“It doesn’t even really matter, to be honest,” Randle said. “I do whatever I got to do to make myself available to play. And just take it a day at a time.”

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