Julius Randle had it going against his former team Los Angeles Lakers. He delivered an All-NBA type of performance with a game-high 31 points, eight rebounds, and five assists that went with 4-of-8 3s. Except that he came up short in the end.
The loss capped a 3-3 West Coast trip that was once feared that would make or break the overachieving Knicks’ season.
“Some would call it success,” Randle said. “I feel like we had a chance to go 5-1. I had a chance to close it out, make it a successful trip — four and two. Put it on me.”
In an ordinary season, a .500 road trip for the Knicks is already a cause for a big celebration. But this season has been extraordinary. With three games left, they are fighting for a homecourt edge instead of increasing their lottery chances.
Randle had two chances to end the Knicks’ seven-year playoff drought. But on both occasions, he failed with the pressure and fatigue weighing him down.
On Tuesday night, in a match that had playoff intensity, he played 44 minutes.
He almost had the game in the bag, but his floater at the buzzer of the fourth quarter rimmed out. The hard-fought match needed extra five minutes to decide the winner. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the Knicks.
The loss not only delayed their march to the playoffs but has also brought them down to sixth seed in the East, losing the tie-breaker to the Atlanta Hawks and the Miami Heat.
Randle’s miss magnified the Knicks’ biggest weakness against the Lakers, who survived without their point guards and LeBron James. The Lakers did it by dominating the boards, 53-41. They crashed the offensive glass with 14 offensive rebounds, none bigger than Wesley Matthews’ putback off a Kentavious Caldwell-Pope’s missed three-pointer with 3.1 seconds left in regulation.
But Randle was adamant none of that mattered had he hit the shot.
“I had a chance to finish the job,” Randle said. “I gotta finish the job. That’s really my focus. I’m not focused on the rebound. Things happen throughout the course of the game. You can’t blame one play. I’m looking at myself, and I gotta finish the job.”
Randle appeared on his way to atone for that big miss in the overtime when he hit a go-ahead three-pointer that capped the Knicks’ fightback from five points down in the overtime. But things began to unravel for Randle.
With a 99-98 lead, Randle had the chance to seal the win. But he traveled in the face of a Lakers’ double-team.
That crucial turnover with 38.8 seconds left paved the way for Talen Horton-Tucker to lift the Lakers to the victory.
Randle didn’t finish the job. And he owned it. He’s holding himself accountable. That’s what leaders do.
Randle‘s growth as the leader of the Knicks will be tested as they scramble for better positioning and avoid the play-in tournament. How he responds to this latest adversity will be telling of the Knicks’ chances to advance deeper. He‘s got three more cracks to make it right beginning against the San Antonio Spurs tomorrow night.
“It’s tough,” Randle said. “But we control our own destiny. We’ll rest, go back home and finish the job.”
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