Jalen Brunson scores 45 as Knicks’ magic number to clinch top-6 spot down to one with win over Bulls

CHICAGO — Jalen Brunson did it again.

At this point, 40-plus points is just another day at the office during one of the best individual offensive stretches the Knicks franchise has ever produced.

The point guard finished with 45 points in Tuesday’s 128-117 victory over the Bulls, adding eight assists in an exquisite show.

Jalen Brunson, who scored 45 points, shoots a 3-pointer over Alex Caruso during the Knicks’ 128-117 win over Bulls. Getty Images

The Bulls were left frustrated by their own boneheaded plays — including an all-time gaffe in the second quarter — but also couldn’t stop the Knicks star.

“Brunson is a motherf–ker,” Bulls guard Coby White said in a way meant to be endearing.

The win left the Knicks with a magic number of 1 to clinch a playoff spot. The Knicks could’ve secured a top-six Eastern Conference spot if Miami lost Tuesday, but the Heat won in double OT in Atlanta.

Still, the Knicks emerged from a hectic NBA schedule night looking pretty good. They moved up a spot in the East to third, jumping over the Magic — which fell to the Rockets. They’re still a game behind the Bucks, who beat the Celtics but lost Giannis Antetokounmpo to a scary injury to his calf area.

The Knicks (47-32) have won three of their last four, and Brunson is lighting up every defense.

“This is a top-10 to -12 player in the NBA this season,” JJ Redick said on his podcast, ‘The Old Man And the Three.’ “I think there is legitimate buzz about him creeping in the top five of the MVP voting. He’s been that good this year. He was phenomenal last year. He’s been even better this year. He has, along with [Tom Thibodeau] and that group, sans [Julius] Randle, they have figured out a counter for every coverage. And it’s been phenomenal to watch. I want to state clearly — if you think Jalen Brunson is a top-30 player, you are vastly underestimating him. He’s closer to that 10 to 15. And you could argue this season, probably a little bit higher.”

OG Anunoby, who scored 24 points, slams home a dunk during the first half of the Knicks’ win. Getty Images

Redick’s sentiment was backed up by the latest ESPN straw poll, which had Brunson sixth on the MVP voting behind Nikola Jokic, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Luka Doncic, Giannis Antetokunmpo and Jayson Tatum.

The latest evidence of his superstardom was consecutive games of 43 and 45 points, respectively. He’s peaking at the right time and Tuesday was his 10th 40-point game of the season, which is good for third in team history. Bernard King dropped 13 40-point games in 1984-85; Patrick Ewing had 11 in 1989-90.

“He’s earned that. It’s not like some hype,” Thibodeau said. “If you look across the board, I think it’s a byproduct of the winning and what he’s done. More importantly they’re not empty stats. It’s impacting winning in a great way. And so to be a leading scorer in the league, to do it with the amount of pressure that he’s had on him in terms of double teaming. We’ve had a lot of guys out, got a number of guys with minute restrictions and everything else and this guy has delivered night after night.”

Brunson, whose minutes restriction is officially over (he logged 42 Tuesday), was helped in by OG Anunoby, who had his best game since returning from elbow tendinopathy.

He scored 24 points in 35 minutes. Donte DiVincenzo added 21 points.

The Bulls (37-42) are fighting for home court in the play-in tournament and beat the Knicks last week on the same court. But their defense disappeared Tuesday — especially when Brunson had the ball.

Chicago’s greatest contribution in the second quarter was to the blooper reel. Torrey Craig — streaking on a 3-on-0 breakaway — threw it off the backboard to attempt a self alley-oop, except teammate Andre Drummond also went for the ball.

Donte DiVincenzo, who scored 21 points, slams home a dunk during the Knicks’ victory. David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

They both collided and missed.

Drummond later left in a wheelchair after rolling his left ankle.

Bulls coach Billy Donovan may want to consider that Kentucky job.

Josh Hart, who scored 17 points and grabbed 13 rebounds, drives to the basket during the Knicks’ win. Getty Images

“It’s not what I’m about and not what our team should be about,” Donovan said of Craig’s showboating blunder.

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