Coming off four straight games that went down to the last possession—losing three of them—Julius Randle and the New York Knicks left nothing to chance on Tuesday night.
Randle’s day started with a $15,000 fine for his sharp criticism of the officiating. It ended with a 37-point performance that fueled the Knicks’ surgical 131-113 win over a hapless Washington Wizards team.
Randle set the tone early, firing 12 in the opening quarter. By halftime, he already had 21 points, and the Knicks sat on a huge 20-point cushion.
The Knicks vented their frustrations on the Wizards after a frustrating last week that culminated in a one-point overtime loss to Eastern Conference leader Philadelphia 76ers.
In that heartbreaker, Randle, a first-time All-Star, blew his top after he was whistled for a loose ball foul that doomed the Knicks.
Two days later, Courtney Kirkland was back as the crew chief, but Randle and the Knicks made sure they wouldn’t leave the outcome at the referees’ whistles.
Thibodeau challenged a call early in the game, overacting his hand gesture. He lost the challenge, but he delivered his message after Kirkland said the Knicks coach was late to challenge the crucial call on Randle last Sunday.
Randle came back with a vengeance and shot 7 for 10 from deep. He scored in a variety of lefty moves and even had all of his 21 first-half points from the court’s left side.
“I think the statement was ‘the win was the most important thing.’ [Randle] has done that a number of times to bounce back after a tough loss—the way in which we lost the game. That’s what leaders do,” Thibodeau said of Randle’s performance.
Randle outplayed the Wizards’ All-Star, Bradley Beal, who only had 22 points way below his league-leading 32.1-point average. Beal was a game-worst minus-20 in the game.
Both All-Stars had a little exchange in the third quarter, and Randle had to be restrained after the buzzer, with the Knicks leading comfortably, 108-80.
Sophomore wingman RJ Barrett continued to make a leap this season. He played as facilitator compiling five assists with 21 points, five boards, and two blocks.
New York’s tough defense smothered Russell Westbrook and forced him to shoot 3-for-14 from the field. Westbrook, though issued 12 assists but was a second-worst minus-17 in the game.
Six players scored in double figures for the Knicks.
Mitchell Robinson has his best game since his return from a fractured right hand.
The 23-year old center was catching lobs left and right. Robinson was a dominant force inside and finished with 16 points, 12 rebounds, and three shot blocks.
Alec Burks had his third straight 20-point game. Reggie Bullock, who was questionable to return after sustaining a sprained ankle midway, came back and ended up with 10 points.
Rookie spitfire Immanuel Quickley went back to the bench and returned to his efficient scoring ways with 12 points on 4-of-8 shooting and three triples.
The Knicks will face the Wizards again on Thursday, the last day teams can make a trade.
Multiple reports have signaled the Knicks are reluctant to offer assets and shake the boat, afraid of disrupting the current team’s chemistry. Only Austin Rivers, who was out of the rotation since Derrick Rose’s arrival, is likely to be traded or bought out.
But between now and Thursday, that’s plenty of time for everything to change when an offer too good to pass up comes along.
Against teams outside each conference’s top-10 like the Wizards, the Knicks look like a playoff-caliber team with a 12-5 record. But despite hanging with some of the title contenders, the Knicks have a losing record (10-17) against top-10 teams.
Randle’s leadership and Thibodeau’s coaching could only do so much.
For the first time in a long while, the Knicks are a .500 team at the trade deadline.
The Knicks’ front office is burning the lines but at the same time wrestling with a big decision that could make or break the team.
Randle didn’t leave tonight’s outcome to chance. It’s the turn of team president Leon Rose and the Knicks front office to ensure they are equipped not to blow their playoff chance.
The clock is ticking.
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