Knicks’ stout defense has chance to prove itself against Stephen Curry test

SAN FRANCISCO — The Knicks suddenly juggernaut defense is taking the Stephen Curry test.

Riding a stretch of five consecutive games holding teams to under 94 points — a stat that is more impressive in today’s run-and-gun NBA — the Knicks will try to stay stingy against not only the top 3-point shooting team in the Western Conference, but the top long-distance shooter in league history.

Curry, already two seasons removed from setting the all-time 3-point record, blasted the Knicks less than three weeks ago at MSG, dropping 31 points on eight treys with 11 boards.

He went off in the first quarter while building the Warriors a 20-4 advantage after just seven minutes, and the Knicks never recovered in their blowout defeat.

But that was also before the Knicks, boosted by the return of OG Anunoby and a league-wide trend of referees allowing more contact since the All-Star break, began applying clamps to the opposition. With Saturday’s 98-91 triumph over the Kings, they became the first team in six years to allow under 422 points in any five-game span.

New York Knicks forward OG Anunoby (8) and Philadelphia 76ers guard Kelly Oubre Jr. (9) battle for a loose ball during the first quarter at Madison Square Garden.
New York Knicks forward OG Anunoby (8) and Philadelphia 76ers guard Kelly Oubre Jr. (9) battle for a loose ball during the first quarter at Madison Square Garden.USA TODAY Sports via Reuters Con
And Anunoby, who is 15-2 with the Knicks, understands he’ll be matched up with Curry at some point Monday. That’s also assuming Curry, who returned from an ankle injury to beat the Lakers on Saturday, is available.

“I’m sure it’ll happen during the game, cross switch or in transition,” Anunoby said of guarding Curry. “So I’m ready for it.”

What’s it like trying to stop a sniper who is perpetually in motion?

“Just head on a swivel, screens coming from everywhere,” Anunoby said. “Switches from on ball to off ball. You never can relax with him.”


Philadelphia 76ers forward Tobias Harris (12) is defended by New York Knicks forward OG Anunoby.AP

Lately, the Knicks (40-27) have benefitted from their own version of Curry in Jalen Brunson, who is averaging 29.7 points since Jan. 27 — the fourth highest behind only Luka Doncic, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Even more impressive, Brunson’s been cooking without much scoring help, which means defenses have thrown the house at the point guard and still can’t cease his production.

He’s coming off consecutive games of scoring 43 percent of the Knicks’ points.

Sacramento coach Mike Brown was flummoxed after Brunson dropped 42 on Saturday, coincidentally drawing comparisons to how he game plans for Curry.

“Jalen, man he’s a helluva player,” Brown said. “I don’t know if — Steph maybe — I don’t know if we blitzed anybody as much as we did Jalen tonight. Tried to send two at him and he still scored 42 points.”

Brunson and Curry are arguably the top two players in the NBA this season who are under 6-foot-3. Barring a shocker, they’re both going to earn All-NBA honors — which would be Curry’s 10th time but Brunson’s first.

No Knicks guard has earned All-NBA since Walt Frazier in 1975.

Jalen Brunson (11) shoots the basketball against Sacramento Kings guard De'Aaron Fox (5) during the second quarter at Golden 1 Center.

Jalen Brunson (11) shoots the basketball against Sacramento Kings guard De’Aaron Fox (5) during the second quarter at Golden 1 Center.Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
“I think he has a really good to chance to get it, I think he deserves it,” Josh Hart said of his teammate. “He’s had the consistency, he’s had the durability that guys who are in that position. I think that’s something he deserves. Media, hopeful they see that. And games like [against Sacramento] where we’ve obviously guys in and out of the lineup and he’s been carrying us. Hopefully they recognize that. He’s someone that deserves it, someone who should get it.”

With Brunson and Curry comparably carrying their respective offenses this season, the big difference between the Knicks (40-27), seeded fourth in the Eastern Conference, and the Warriors (35-31), ninth in the Western Conference, is Tom Thibodeau’s defense.

Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors shoots past the defense of LeBron James #23 of the Los Angeles Lakers during the second half.
Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors shoots past the defense of LeBron James #23 of the Los Angeles Lakers during the second half.Getty Images
Its identity, built around physicality and rebounding, has translated in March — and heading into Sunday’s games — to the NBA’s fewest points allowed, the slowest pace, the most rebounds and the best defensive rating.

Against Curry, it’ll be harder to keep that up.

“They’re good. There’s no way around it,” Knicks guard Donte DiVincenzo said of his former team, the Warriors. “They beat good teams. They dealt with the injury bug. They’ve dealt with guys in and out, Draymond [Green] being suspended. They’ve been through it and they’re still in the race for the playoffs and the play-in.”

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