As the Philistine moved closer to attack him, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet him. Reaching into his bag and taking out a stone, he slung it and struck the Philistine on the forehead. The stone sank into his forehead, and he fell facedown on the ground … — 1 Samuel 17:48-49

We start the column thusly for three reasons:

1. As proof that 16 years’ tuition for Catholic schooling was not spent in vain.

2. That the Knicks — despite the early word out of Vegas that has them as slight betting ’dogs in their Eastern Conference first-round series against the 76ers — will show up anyway with their bags and their stones and their slingshots.

3. To remind that it is Jalen Brunson who will sling these stones and aim them at the Philadelphian Philistine, Joel Embiid, which surely gives them a puncher’s chance.

Or at least a slinger’s stake.

This will be the most compelling matchup, Brunson versus Embiid, Embiid versus Brunson, even if the only way they will actually match up with each other is if something goes wrong:

If Brunson bypasses the swarm of defenders who will surely look to keep him outside the paint, with only Embiid’s 7-feet and 280 pounds in his way. Or if Embiid finds himself with the ball ahead of the field as Brunson plants his 6-2, 190, for a charge, waiting to be smote by an onrushing Mack truck wearing No. 21.

What the 76ers reminded us of when they eked by the Heat in the 7-8 play-in game is that no matter who from the choruses steps out — Tyrese Maxey, Nic Batum — they go wherever they go because Embiid carries them there. And what we saw across 82 games from the Knicks is that Brunson is the same force of basketball nature, even at 10 inches shorter and 90 pounds lighter.

“Honestly it starts with the head of the snake,” Maxey said Wednesday night. “Jalen Brunson has been remarkable. We’ve all seen the season he’s had. We have to slow him down. First and foremost they’re aggressive so we have to be aggressive.”

Said Knicks center Isiah Hartenstein about Embiid: “He’s going through some stuff but what makes a player special is to be ready for anything, go through a lot of pain and still play.”

Asked whether he’ll change his approach at all if the version of Embiid who played the play-in — still clearly slowed by his bum knee, still not in top condition — shows up on Saturday, Hartenstein smiled.

“We’re prepared for MVP Joel,” he said.

The title still belongs to him, and he was well on the way to adding a second one before he got hurt this year. He was averaging 35.3 points and 11.2 rebounds when he went down with the knee, shooting 53 percent from the field, 88 percent from the line. The five games he played at season’s end he shot just 49 percent — but he also shot 48 percent from 3, and he hit two critical treys against the Heat, late.

Brunson? It seemed unlikely that he’d be able to match, let-alone top, the do-everything coming-out party he had in his first year as a Knick. Instead, he doubled down. He made the All-Star Game.

He’s almost certain to be on one of the first two All-NBA teams, and seems a good bet to maybe make the top five in the MVP count. His scoring went up (24.0 to 28.7) and so did his assists (6.2 to 6.7), and while his shooting percentages dipped slightly that was mostly through necessity, since with absences to the lineup he took 453 more shots and 204 more 3s. He was 11th in the league in clutch shooting, which actually feels low.

“His impact on everything we do,” Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said, “is everywhere.”

“So David triumphed over the Philistine with a sling and a stone; without a sword in his hand he struck down the Philistine and killed him …”

Goliath didn’t get the kind of whistle Embiid is likely to get. And Brunson doesn’t need to do any smiting, as David did. He simply needs to transfer the kind of game we saw out of him 77 times this year. Both will make their teammates better, as always. Both will inspire rowdy crowds in Manhattan and Philly, as ever.

Saturday can’t arrive soon enough. Bring on the invading Philistines … er, Philadelphians. It’s time.

Share.
2024 © Network Today. All Rights Reserved.