Julius Randle outdueled Zion Williamson in the showdown between All-Star forwards.
Randle hit three triples in the opening quarter that set the tone for the New York Knicks‘ 116-106 win over Williamson and the Pelicans Wednesday night at the Smoothie Center in New Orleans.
The Knicks notched their season-high fourth straight victory leaning on Randle’s seventh 30-point performance of the season and Alec Burks’ fourth-quarter explosion on offense. But it was their collective effort on defense that propelled them to improve to 29-27 and move up to sixth in the bunched-up Eastern Conference.
Williamson still got away with 25 points, eight rebounds, and seven assists but only had four points in the final 19 minutes. He went 1-of-4 from the field in the pivotal fourth quarter, where the Knicks completely took control of the game.
Williamson didn’t score his first basket until the final 2:36 of the first quarter.
Randle drew help from Taj Gibson, who started for late scratch Nerlens Noel (sore right ankle), and Norvel Pelle in packing the paint and made life hard for Williamson.
Pelle skied high to block Williamson in the second quarter, but the sophomore forward built like a tank quickly returned the favor in the next play. Williamson was in the zone in the middle quarters.
But come crunch time, the last year’s top overall pick couldn’t deliver in the face of the Knicks’ physical and swarming defense.
“You know Zion is a handful. So, we had to throw as many bodies as we can and get out and recover to the shooters,” Randle said.
“My teammates did a great job showing up, throwing bodies, and giving me help. And then just made the extra effort— the second effort plays—in getting out to the shooters and making it hard for him.”
New Orleans struggled with only six three-pointers out of 28 tries as the Pelicans saw their three-game win streak came to an end.
Brandon Ingram paced the Pelicans with 28 points on 22 shots.
The Knicks, led by Randle’s five threes, shot 51.5 percent (17-33) from the outside. They are undefeated (9-0) when they shot at least 50 percent from beyond the arc.
Randle had his second straight 30-point game—curiously against his former team’s—with 32 points, eight rebounds, and five assists. Then Burks’ 14-point outburst in the fourth quarter put the game beyond reach.
Burks finished with 21 points to pick up the slack, with RJ Barrett struggling for the second straight game. Barrett had a quiet six points on 2-of-10 shooting.
Randle and Burks combined for 21 points in the decisive fourth quarter, where the Knicks pulled away from a tight four-point game. They built several double-digit leads, but the Pelicans kept on fighting.
New Orleans cut a New York dozen lead into half, 109-103.
Burks then buried a clutch three with 2:05 left that sucked the life out of the Pelicans and gave a jolt of energy to Knicks owner James Dolan, who cheered from the sideline beside team president Leon Rose and senior advisor William Wesley in his first road trip this season.
The 35-year old Gibson turned in an inspiring performance in an emergency start with eight points, 10 rebounds, two assists, and two blocks. Pelle played solid in 13 spot-up minutes contributing four points, three boards, a steal, and a swat.
Randle is looking to continue his hot-shooting and extend the Knicks’ winning streak as he heads home to Dallas. They will face the Mavericks, who tripped Memphis Grizzlies on Luka Doncic’s game-winner.
Randle is eager to redeem himself from his lackluster 14-point performance, his lowest scoring output this month, during their 99-86 loss to the Mavericks last April 2. His big game tonight against Williamson should give him the much-needed confidence.
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