Tom Thibodeau says Knicks star Jalen Brunson suffered a 'bruised knee' against the Cavaliers

CLEVELAND — The New York Knicks went home Sunday night feeling good about themselves, lucky because of star guard Jalen Brunson's diagnosis.

The evening could have veered in a different, and far more depressing, direction.

The Knicks beat the Cleveland Cavaliers 107-98 despite losing Brunson to a left knee injury, which certainly looked worse than what the team says it is now. Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau described the incident as a “knee bruise” after the game and said X-rays taken at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse were negative.

“Anytime someone goes down like that, you get worried,” Thibodeau said. “But then he felt a little better. He had an X-ray. The doctors examined him and that's good news.”

But immediately after the injury, the atmosphere was not positive.

Even though he was struggling to get off the field, Brunson urged doctors not to rule him out of the game, and the team's coach and Precious Achiuwa helped the All-Star as he limped onto the bench and into the tunnel.

The point guard returned to the locker room to test how much pressure he could put on his left leg and whether he could jump. The Knicks initially announced that Brunson's return was doubtful. Once they realized the pain was too severe for him to compete, they declared him out.

New York's players, who were borderline elated in the postgame locker room after what was arguably their boldest win of the season, were also told that Brunson's injury did not appear to be serious.

His teammate Donte DiVincenzo said: “I asked him if he was OK, and he said he would be OK.” “And that's it for me. … I don't worry about Jalen. He's one of the toughest players in the league.”

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The timeline for Brunson's injury remains unclear. The Knicks will play at home against the Atlanta Hawks on Tuesday. That follows two straight days of rest before they host the Orlando Magic.

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

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

On the Knicks' first possession Sunday night, Brunson dribbled from the left wing toward the foul line and unleashed a powerful shot, awkwardly kicking his legs to the side on his way up. Brunson was holding his knee before he even landed, and there was no clear contact from Cavs defenseman Isaac Okoro to indicate the injury. Brunson jumped several times before falling to the court and gone forever with 11 minutes, 13 seconds left in the first quarter.

One possible cause of the injury occurred just seconds before Brunson's fall when he wandered around a screen from teammate Isaiah Hartenstein and appeared to accidentally hit his knees up the middle. But Brunson wound up going around the screen, caught the ball and made his move before catching his knee in the air.

When asked about it after the match, Hartenstein wasn't sure whether or not he hit knees with Brunson.

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

Brunson did not speak to reporters after the match.

Brunson, 27, an All-Star for the first time this season, is averaging 27.7 points and 6.7 assists — both career highs. Myles McBride entered the game for Brunson, 47 seconds later, and was never out. He finished the season with 16 points and five assists. DiVincenzo was the best scorer for the Knicks with 28 points and six three-pointers, while Josh Hart recorded a triple-double with 13 points, 19 rebounds and 10 assists. The Knicks (36-25) alone rank fourth in the Eastern Conference.

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This rematch of last year's first-round playoff series between the Cavs and Knicks had already lost some serious luster with New York missing Julius Randle, Ogie Anunoby and Mitchell Robinson — who are rehabbing major injuries — while Cleveland was without Donovan Mitchell and Caris LeVert due to minor injuries. .

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

Hartenstein has bounced in and out of the lineup due to Achilles tendinopathy. Bojan Bogdanovic missed a game two weeks ago with a calf injury. DiVincenzo sat out the same evening due to his hamstring injury. Earlier this week, Brunson was unable to suit up for a loss to the New Orleans Pelicans due to neck spasms.

“It was the story of the season,” Thibodeau said. “We've been fighting short since December, so keep fighting. That's all we can do.”

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

“He's making really good progress, so hopefully that will happen soon,” Thibodeau said of Randle. “You want to make sure the doctors feel good about it medically; he feels good about it. Once that happens, he pretty much does everything. He's made some light contact but nothing has happened with any player yet. So This will be the next step.”

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The Cavaliers (39-21), who fell to 3-4 after the All-Star break and are coming off a second-place loss, got 21 points off the bench from Sam Merrill. Darius Garland finished with 19 points and Jarrett Allen added 18 points. They lost the season series to New York 2-1, a disappointing result for a franchise determined to show it has evolved after a gentlemanly sweep at the hands of the Knicks.

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

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(Photo: Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)

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