Jalen Brunson received a standing ovation from the home crowd in New York as he trotted down the field alongside teammates Julius Randle and Obi Toppin – although the Knicks’ big free agent acquisition was not wearing the blue and orange.
Instead, the 25-year-old guard sported a purple jersey with the words “pro city” strewn across the chest. And while his New York debut didn’t take place in front of thousands of cheering fans in Madison Square Garden, the hundreds of people who gathered at the premises of Hostos Community College titled “The Swamp” in the Bronx certainly had a warm welcome.
Brunson, Randle and Toppin made a Monday night playoff appearance for Nike Pro City – a premier indoor basketball league based in the Big Apple – and gave hopeful Knicks fans a glimpse what the future might hold for us.
Minutes after the first whistle, the trio played the first of their many signature games of the evening. While executing the point on a fast break, Brunson sent the ball in the back of Randle, who was standing unguarded several yards behind the three-point line. Although his shot bounced harmlessly off the back of the rim, it was correlated by a high-flying Toppin, who slammed the ball with authority and sent the crowd into a fervent uproar.
Toppin continued to torment the rim throughout the early part of the contest en route to posting 11 first-quarter points. Moments after fending off another missed shot from his teammates, the 24-year-old forward picked up a loose ball in midfield and pulled his dunk back between the legs, nearly ripping through the rim and the entire roof. In the process.
Brunson took over in the second quarter with three straight smooth finishes at the rim, pulling his team within three points at 35-38. His chemistry with his new Knicks teammates was hard to miss, as the former Maverick threw a no-look, behind-the-back pass to Toppin, who finished the dish with a two-handed slam.
As the pair raced side by side moments later on a fast break, Brunson went for a dunk only to realize he didn’t have enough height. He instead settled for an awkward layup, sending himself and Toppin into a fit of laughter.
Randle also had fun as he deployed a stuttering move in the corner that broke his defender’s ankles and led to an easy dunk along the baseline.
The Knicks stars entered halftime by one point, with the score at 52-53. After a strong start to start the second half which featured two deep threes from Randle and Brunson, they took their first lead of the game at 60-59.
Tensions began to mount in the final minutes of the third quarter after an opposing player finished in Randle’s face and flexed on the Knicks big man. Several light shoves ensued to the delight of the fans in attendance and play continued soon after.
Shortly after, Randle found himself in another sticky situation. Looking for a block on the opposing team’s playmaker, he went up with the shooter but collected the foul and landed hard on the pitch. After several seconds on the ground, Randle was able to get off on his own and stay in the game.
The Knicks starters found themselves on the losing end of the final score of 110-97, despite playing well throughout the contest. Toppin led the field with 25 points, followed closely by Brunson with 24 and Randle with 18.
After the game, Nike Pro City manager Bernard Bowen congratulated the Knicks trio for their excellent performance.
“It’s a playoff atmosphere, New York bragging rights on the line. The guys want to come out and leave it all on the floor, put on a good show for the city,” Bowen said. “You have many children [here] who can’t afford to go to a Knicks game, so for those guys to come and play in this atmosphere where it’s free for the kids, it’s a blessing.