MILWAUKEE — Jalen Brunson was back to brilliance.
After a sludge through the opening five games, the point guard erupted for 45 points Friday night while displaying the type of footwork and shot-making that carried the Knicks for much of last season and the playoffs.
Brunson nearly completed a second-half comeback by himself, dropping 29 points after the break and burying a trey with 70 seconds left that gave the Knicks their first lead since the opening quarter.
He dissected Milwaukee’s defenders with pivots and misdirection.
If not for the Knicks’ missing 75 percent of their 3-pointers — which Brunson didn’t help with while going 2-for-8 from beyond the arc — it would’ve been a heroic effort.
Instead, the Knicks (2-4) lost their second straight
“He was aggressive all game,” coach Tom Thibodeau said of Brunson. “I thought he was in attack mode. He’s starting to get his rhythm, his timing, so all his little touch shots are going in. He’s shifty, forcing them to react to him. Got to good spots on the floor, made good plays.”
Bucks coach Adrian Griffin, a former NBA wing, said Brunson’s footwork is reminiscent of an all-time great.
“I’m not trying to compare him to Kobe, but that was one of the things,” Griffin said. “I had to guard Kobe all the time. Kobe had all the shot fakes, all the footwork. So he just kept you guessing. It’s hard to guard when you don’t know what’s coming. And Jalen’s proven that.”
Even in the context of defeat, it was encouraging for the Knicks to see their top player get off the schneid.
Several members of Team USA’s World Cup team began this campaign struggling — including Brunson — and the Knicks can’t afford mediocrity from the point guard with RJ Barrett managing knee pain and Julius Randle in a deep slump.
Still, the opposing point guard Friday night — Damian Lillard — nailed the winners with six straight points in 30 seconds after the Knicks took the late lead.
The former Blazer was happy to escape Brunson with a win.
“Super crafty,” Lillard said. “He can make 3s but he doesn’t settle for 3s. He draws fouls. He knows how to position himself in front of the defender. He puts the defender in tough positions where you have to foul. You’re trying to defend hard like you’re taught to and then he has you at his mercy. You attack hard and he stops on a dime and you run into him.
“They play a lot through him. I’ve been in situations so he has the ball. I’ve been in situations where you constantly have the ball, the rhythm that you have, the freedom that you have. So you’re up against it when you’re playing against somebody like him.”
This story originally appeared on NYPost