The New York Knicks have a ripe opportunity to stifle the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 5 away from MSG. After a dominant Game 4 win, led by Jalen Brunson and RJ Barrett, the team is primed to continue forward in the playoffs, but they need the best from Julius Randle, who has struggled to start their post-season run.
Randle scored just seven points, playing 27 minutes, tied for a team-low low among their primary starters, with the other being Mitchell Robinson. Given Robinson’s stature and frame, he needs frequent rest, so Randle should theoretically be playing 35+ minutes per game, but his inefficiency led to him being benched in the fourth quarter.
“Look, Julius is our horse. He’s given us everything that he has,” Tom Thibodeau said after Game 4’s win. “A lot of guys probably wouldn’t even be playing. So I knew that the quick turnaround [from Friday night] would probably impact him more than most players.
Thibodeau came to Randle’s defense after the game, but the Knicks may have to make a tough decision in Game 5 in Cleveland, where things are bound to get physical.
The Knicks need to play to their strengths:
The Cavaliers have one of the best defenses in the game, specifically when it comes to interior defense. Jarrett Allen and Evan Mobley are extremely difficult to get around, given their wing span and rebounding qualities.
Randle’s game revolves around his physicality and driving to the basket, where things have been difficult. The matchup doesn’t favor his style of game, so he may have more production if the Knicks manage to push past Cleveland.
Thibodeau did reference the most recent ankle injury, which could be holding him back and limiting his performance.
“He was out an extended amount of time. We’ve got multiple days here before the next game [Wednesday in Cleveland] where we’ll get a chance to get some recovery time. The thing I love about him is he gives you everything he has. He’s done that. To come back the way he did, be ready for Game 1. Credit to him. We need it, he’s our horse. You know that.”
Ultimately, Obi Toppin may be more beneficial for the Knicks, who played 20 minutes and scored five points with eight rebounds against Cleveland in Game 4. Toppin has been shooting well and showcasing his athleticism in transition.
The Cavaliers have one of the slowest teams in basketball, so I think the pace and playing a transition game are essential for the Knicks to keep them on their toes and chasing from behind. Toppin runs the floor extremely well and gives plenty of outlet opportunities to Jalen Brunson and Immanuel quickly.
Thibodeau won’t refrain from starting Randle and giving him significant minutes, but if he’s struggling, he shouldn’t hesitate to take him out in favor of Toppin, who can easily be a catalyst.
The tough decision should only be considered temporary. Allowing Randle to skip out against a tough matchup and look ahead toward a more favorable opponent in round two of the playoffs.