Julius Randle put on a show at The Garden before heading to Atlanta for his first NBA All-Star game.
Randle’s near triple-double powered the New York Knicks to their first winning record at the All-Star break in eight years.
The Knicks improved to 19-18, sitting at fifth place in the Eastern Conference after a wire-to-wire 114-104 victory over the Detroit Pistons on Thursday.
This marks the first time the Knicks are above .500 this late in the season since they were the Eastern Conference’s second seed at the All-Star break in 2013, the last time they reached the playoffs.
After a disappointing road loss in San Antonio two nights ago, the Knicks vented their ire on the Eastern Conference-worst Pistons.
With Randle leading the way, the Knicks led from start to finish. The first-time All-Star already had a double-double (18 points, 10 rebounds) in the first half alone as the Knicks sat on a 13-point halftime lead, 59-46.
New York extended the lead to 19, heading into the fourth quarter. The undermanned Pistons put up a token resistance in the final period cutting the lead to nine, but RJ Barrett quickly restored a double-digit lead with a three-pointer.
Randle bullied his way to 27 points, 16 rebounds, and seven assists, becoming the first player in Knicks history to have 800 points, 400 rebounds, and 200 assists at the All-Star break, according to Elias Sports Bureau.
Aside from that milestone, the 26-year old forward also recorded his 10th game with at least 25 points, 10 rebounds, and five assists, the second-most in franchise history. He needs five more to tie the franchise record held by Bob McAdoo, which he did during the 1977-78 season.
â€œWeâ€™re growing as a team, growing as a unit,â€™â€™ Randle told Rebecca Haarlow after the game. â€œWe got to go into the break and stay ready because the second half will be a beast. The first half was great for us, but we know we can keep improving and get better as a team, and we will.â€™â€™
The Knicks took care of business in the first half of the season, winning 12 games against losing teams and scoring victories against some playoff-caliber teams. They routed Golden State and Boston on the road and Milwaukee at home while beating Indiana twice.
But it will get tougher after the All-Star break.
The Knicks will play 26 of their last 35 games against playoff-contending teams, starting with a tough road trip in Milwaukee next Thursday followed by visits in Oklahoma, Brooklyn, and Philadelphia.
But before they get tested, this night was all about the Knicks punctuating a terrific first half of the season, which pundits never saw coming.
The Knicks’ turnaround wasn’t only about Randle. Collectively, this team emerged from the long years of dysfunction and incompetence.
They learned to play for each other under first-year coach Tom Thibodeau. Thursday night’s encore against the Pistons was another testament to that.
Derrick Rose missed his second straight game due to COVID-19 health and protocols, but Elfrid Payton returned to the starting unit with aplomb.
Payton directed the Knicks’ offense which became stagnant in their 119-93 loss to the Spurs earlier. He was active on both ends of the floor, collecting 20 points, six rebounds, four assists, four steals, and a block in a complete performance. Payton tied Reggie Bullock, who had 12 markers, for the nightâ€™s highest net rating with +17.
All five starters finished in double figures, with Barrett scoring 21 points on 9-of-13 shots. The Canadian swingman, chosen as one of the Rising Stars for the second straight year, added four boards and five dimes.
Nerlens Noel continued to provide a defensive spark with Mitchell Robinson (fractured hand) and Taj Gibson (ankle injury) still sidelined. He stuffed the stats sheet with 12 points, 11 rebounds, two assists, four steals, and two blocks while shooting a perfect 5-for-5 from the field.
Dennis Smith, Jr. returned to New York for the first time since he got traded for Rose and scored 12 points in a starting role. Another ex-Knick, Wayne Ellington, who spent last season in New York, led the Pistons with 17 points.
It was a fitting send-off for Randle, who was selected and praised by one of the All-Star captains, Kevin Durant, also the leader of the championship-caliber team in Brooklyn, just across the borough.
Bannering Team Durant are starters Kyrie Irving, Joel Embiid, Kawhi Leonard, Bradley Beal, and Durant’s replacement Jayson Tatum.
Randle joins James Harden, Devin Booker, Zion Williamson, Zach LaVine, Nikola Vucevic, and Donovan Mitchell as reserves.
Randle will also compete in the Skills Challenge while Knicks rookie Obi Toppin hopes to end his dull first half with a bang in the Slam Dunk competition as a springboard to the second half of the season.
Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo