NEW YORK — Jalen Brunson felt good enough to blow by the Denver Nuggets early and hang around to make some big plays at the end.
The New York Knicks needed their point guard to get by the best in the West and Brunson was glad his sore left foot was healthy enough to deliver.
He had 24 points in his return to the court, leading the Knicks to a 116-110 victory on Saturday.
“Everything feels good when you win,” Brunson said.
Brunson had 16 points in the first quarter to get the Knicks off to a quick start, then finished strong to help them come back after trailing by 13 in the second half. New York was protecting a two-point lead when he made two free throws with 43 seconds remaining, then pushed the ball up the court and threw a lob that Mitchell Robinson slammed down to make it 116-110 with 24 seconds to go.
“He started the game, that was probably more adrenaline than anything else,” Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said. “But a little rust, but then he got a good rhythm late so it was good.”
Brunson had missed five of the last six games and made it through only half the one game he did play when he thought he was ready. With their point guard back, the Knicks won their third straight and improved to 42-30, guaranteeing just their second winning record in the last 10 seasons.
RJ Barrett added 21 points and Julius Randle had 20 for the Knicks, including the tiebreaking basket with 2:21 left. Robinson grabbed nine rebounds.
Nikola Jokic had 24 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists for the Nuggets, who lost for the fifth time in six games. Jamal Murray scored 25 points.
The Western Conference leaders had snapped their longest losing streak of the season at four games on Thursday at Detroit, but fell into a quick hole in this one, with Brunson’s early burst providing the Knicks and a sold-out crowd of 19,812 more energy than usual for a day game. Fans in it chanted “MVP! MVP!” when Brunson went to the line for his two final free throws.
“It’s a great fan base to play in front of and I really appreciate it, but we’ve got a long way to go before that,” Brunson said. “So I’ve just got to continue to help my team win and then move on from there.”
Brunson scored the first five points and later in the first quarter had a pair of three-point plays, the latter with 3:55 left giving him 16 points to match Denver’s total for the game at that point.
New York led 36-28 after one and extended it to 45-32. But the Nuggets began to get comfortable midway through the second, when Jokic’s three-point play triggered a 7-0 burst, and they sped by the Knicks just before halftime.
Murray hit consecutive 3-pointers to end a 13-2 surge that gave Denver a 67-59 lead before Randle made a three-point play to cut it to five at the break.
The Nuggets ran off 10 straight points early in the third to make it 79-67, but the Knicks outscored them 16-5 to end the period and tie it at 91.
“Big stretch was that end of the third quarter,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “They close on a 20-7 run, took all the momentum going into the fourth quarter, and then they close the game on a 10-2 run and we just can’t turn the ball over that many times, especially second half, fourth quarter.”
Nuggets: It was the Nuggets’ first loss at Madison Square Garden since Oct. 30, 2017. ... Malone, a New York native and former Knicks assistant, said he hoped to see family on Sunday after the Nuggets visit Brooklyn for their second straight day game in New York.
Knicks: Brunson was presented with his Eastern Conference player of the month for February award before the game. ... Josh Hart scored 13 points.
Nuggets: At Brooklyn on Sunday.
Knicks: Host Minnesota on Monday.