Jalen Brunson struggles as Knicks’ late rally falls short in loss to rival Heat

MIAMI — The Knicks were eliminated in the playoffs last year by the Heat despite Jalen Brunson’s brilliance.

On Tuesday, Brunson was part of the problem.

“Everyone did their job except me,” the star point guard said.

Jalen Brunson drives on Caleb Martin during the Knicks’ 109-99 loss to the Heat. USA TODAY Sports via Reuters Con

It was an uncharacteristic struggle all Tuesday evening from Brunson, who missed 13 of his 18 shots and committed five turnovers in a 109-99 defeat.

He still battled and dished out 10 assists with 20 points, but faltered down the stretch as a Knicks comeback fell short.

“You’re not going to play great in every game. No player in this league does,” coach Tom Thibodeau said. “And so the challenge is to still find ways to win. It’s pretty good when you have 20 points with 10 assists. … It wasn’t an A-plus from him. But he’s still going to compete on every possession. And that’s all you can ask of anybody.”

Thibodeau then repeated six times about Brunson “getting fouled,” keeping his message going that the point guard doesn’t get a fair whistle.

The Knicks, as a whole, were uncharacteristic in ways that often only apply when they face Miami in big games.

They committed sloppy turnovers.

They lost the rebounding battle handily, 39-30, despite entering as the NBA’s best team on the glass.

Jimmy Butler shoots over Josh Hart during the Knicks’ loss. AP

They were out-hustled and out-muscled.

But after trailing throughout — most often by double digits — the visitors exploded on a 12-0 run in the fourth quarter to tie the game at 92 on Precious Achiuwa’s putback with four minutes left.

Then the Heat responded with a 17-7 run to close out the win, with Terry Rozier finishing with a game-high 34 points.

“They came out with more urgency, more will from the beginning,” Donte DiVincenzo said. “Second half, we got our heads out of our asses and started playing. But I think at the end, you have to give them credit. They executed. But it was really the start of the game. I think they were more ready than us. … They stepped on our throats early on.”

Donte DiVincenzo looks to make a move on Terry Rozier during the Knicks’ loss. Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

Perhaps Brunson was due for a letdown after carrying such a load in March.

He acknowledged feeling under the weather before the game, saying with congestion, ”I don’t feel the best, but I’m fine.”

Then he committed five turnovers — including a pivotal one with about two minutes remaining — and wasn’t happy when told of his total.

“F–-k,” he said. “Just carelessness.”

Miles McBride drives on Caleb Martin during the Knicks’ loss. AP

The Knicks (44-31) dropped their third straight and fell below the Magic to fifth in the Eastern Conference.

Their bright spots Tuesday were Miles McBride, who dropped 24 points and chased around Rozier on defense, Bojan Bogdanovic, who had his best game as a Knick with 16 points off the bench, and DiVincenzo, who added 31 points in 35 minutes on 11-for-21 shooting.

Erik Spoelstra’s teams tend to ramp it up in April.

Part of that is because Jimmy Butler coasts through the regular season before turning on the boosters when it matters.

Bojan Bogdanovic drives between Nikola Jovic (right) and Caleb Martin during the Knicks’ loss. USA TODAY Sports via Reuters Con

And it’s starting to really matter for the Heat (42-33), who are seventh in the East and trying to avoid the play-in.

“Jimmy kind of does side quests during the year until about April,” Josh Hart said beforehand. “Then he starts locking in. I’m sure people are going to see that maniac competitive side now that he’s done with the side quests and he’s on to the main quests.”

It was the Knicks’ first game at the Kaseya Center since being eliminated in Game 6 last year.

And it was a rough start.

After dueling MVP chants for Brunson and Butler in the opening minutes, the Knicks trailed by 12 after the first quarter.

They had a chance late but it’s a lot harder when Brunson isn’t having his A-plus game — especially without the promise of a return for Julius Randle and OG Anunoby.

“I think you just have to deal with reality,” Thibodeau said. “We’ve been dealing with this all year. Our reality is we have to go with the guys that are available. And if we get ’em back, then it’s a bonus.”