Jalen Brunson has emerged as the Knicks closer

Julius Randle connects with the opening hook. Jalen Brunson delivers the knockout blow.

That’s been the winning formula for the Knicks lately, with Friday’s victory over the Raptors underscoring the trend. Randle had 19 points in the first quarter; Brunson followed with 10 in the final six minutes.

The strategy isn’t necessarily by design, according to Tom Thibodeau, but it’s gone that way frequently and it’s working out.

“The game will tell you,” Thibodeau repeated.

Brunson’s emergence as the closer has been one of the most important reasons for the Knicks turnaround, a stretch of five weeks with a 12-5 record. Randle, while enjoying a strong campaign, has never been the best bailout option when the pressure tightens, and the Knicks didn’t have a point guard to adeptly navigate a blitzing defense in crunch time until Brunson’s signing.

Brunson won’t admit it — perhaps because acknowledging his status as the closer can be construed as a slight to Randle and RJ Barrett — but he’s best equipped to make the late-game play with the clock dwindling and the game in the balance.

He said the philosophy is to keep it simple.

“What I try and do is try and relax and stay poised in those moments,” said Brunson. “Everyone talks about pressure and all that stuff, but just gotta trust your mechanics, trust everything you do. These are the moments that you dream of as a kid and then you get to the point where you’re older now, you get less opportunities, you gotta take full advantage. I think for me, I just got to stay focused and poised and stay confident. Not worry about, ‘Oh, it’s a clutch shot’ or, ‘Oh, it’s a big moment.’ It’s just a possession where we want to make the most of it.”

It’s a role Brunson carried in high school and college but not in the NBA until this season. In Dallas, he conceded those moments to Luka Doncic. Now he’s far and away leading the Knicks in points during ‘clutch’ time — defined as the score being within five points in the final five minutes — and doing it efficiently.

In the last two games — victories over the Spurs and Raptors — Brunson scored 10 of the Knicks’ 15 points in those ‘clutch’ moments.

“We’re just trying to make the right play at the right time. And no matter who has the ball at the end of the game or anything like that, we all have confidence and trust in each other,” Brunson said. “So I think that’s the biggest key for us being successful going forward. Recently, I was put in those positions, but I think a lot of people have that mentality, have that ability.”

Randle, meanwhile, is averaging 9.1 points in the first quarter, the most on the Knicks by a wide margin and fifth in the NBA heading into Sunday’s contests. His 41.5% shooting on 3-pointers in the first quarter is well above his season average of 35%.

Randle sets em’ up and Brunson knocks em’ down.

“I always had that approach, that mentality and I’ve had that ability,” Brunson said. “I think for me just staying confident in what I do and not trying to do something that I can’t.”