This was the kind of late-season victory not witnessed in some time by a Garden crowd, the kind of March energy the building has reserved exclusively for the Big East Tournament for the last decade or so, the kind of win that makes you believe in these Knicks.
This was the Knicks, on course for playoff position, seized control early and landing the plane against the Best in the West Nuggets.
This was Jalen Brunson returning with emphasis, sparking the Garden crowd early and finishing with 24 points.
This was a 116-110 victory over Denver that reveals something about the mettle of the Knicks, with just 10 games left before playoff basketball.
A run late in the third quarter, sparked by the Knicks bench, turned around a 12-point deficit and got the Garden rocking and rolling.
Josh Hart and Immanuel Quickley hit consecutive 3-pointers to tie the score at 88 with 2:53 to go in the third, and it was tied at 91 heading into the fourth. There was still, though, the small matter of the final 12 minutes against a powerhouse Nuggets team.
Hart helped turn that third-quarter momentum into a fourth-quarter lead with a couple of turnovers to spark a run as Denver kept Nikola Jokic on the bench to start the final quarter. When the two-time MVP returned to the game, the Knicks’ lead was a slim 104-100, and that quickly evaporated into a one-point deficit.
It was the last four minutes, though, in which the Knicks showed what they were made of.
Each time Denver punched, the Knicks punched back harder. Finally, with the Knicks up two after a Julius Randle turnaround jumper, they got a stop, and then another stop.
Then it was Brunson — of course — leaning into Jamal Murray to draw a foul. He hit both free throws to bring the lead to 114-110 with 43.1 seconds left as M-V-P chants rang around The Garden.
From there, Jokic missed a three, Mitchell Robinson threw down a transition feed from Brunson and the building exploded in cheers. Ballgame.
Yes, the Nuggets were playing for the second time in three days and will play again Sunday at the Nets, and it showed, especially early in the game.
And yes, what matters most for the Knicks is yet to come. Still, this was a game worth enjoying, particularly due to Brunson’s seamless return from what he called a bone bruise in his left foot.
After going through warmups and being declared ready to go, Brunson keyed a 13-4 run to start the game, hitting the match’s first shot with a 3-pointer, then nailing another pull-up triple.
By the time he came out of the game with 3:05 to go in the first quarter, Brunson had 16 points and there was zero question left about his health. He got to the rim, he created off the dribble, he moved through his bag of tricks with gusto.
If you dropped from the sky to watch this game, you wouldn’t have believed he was coming off an injury.
At the end of the day, that may prove more important for the Knicks than any result could have been on Saturday.
That is not, though, to diminish the importance of a win.
The Nuggets clawed back after Brunson helped the Knicks take an early lead, riding a strong run of 3-point shooting into a five-point halftime lead.
No matter, the Knicks were not about to fold.
Instead, the second half was a stage to make more believers.