Jalen Brunson stepped up in Julius Randle's absence on a career night as the New York Knicks fired a warning shot in beating the Cleveland Cavaliers ahead of the playoffs.
The Knicks are fifth in the Eastern Conference, with the Cavs in fourth. Barring an unlikely late turn of events, they will face each other in the first round this postseason.
Friday's win was a big one then for New York, a 130-116 victory in Cleveland renewing optimism ahead of making that same trip again in the coming weeks.
All-Star Randle was back in New York, but he was scarcely missed as Brunson scored a career-high 48 points, including seven three-pointers.
"There is nothing that Jalen does that surprises you," said Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau. "He's so mentally tough.
"He's nicked up a little bit, but he's a machine. He just keeps going."
Sheeeeeeesh. @jalenbrunson1 pic.twitter.com/e1Vy6kMcyR— NEW YORK KNICKS (@nyknicks) April 1, 2023
Randle sprained his ankle this week and will miss the rest of the regular season, although he will be evaluated again ahead of the playoffs.
"He's done all he can to prepare himself to play in every game, which is a credit to him," Thibodeau said.
"He doesn't miss practice. He doesn't miss games. I'm actually surprised it doesn't happen more than it does."
With Randle potentially returning for the Knicks' far more consequential next game against the Cavs, Donovan Mitchell was eager to ensure Cleveland learn from their loss.
"This loss hurts," said Mitchell. "We need to feel it and be ready to use it when the time comes.
"Obviously, we control our destiny and we'll probably see these guys in two weeks.
"There is a lot of film to go through. But if we let this affect us, we have no chance in the playoffs."