This season, the New York Knicks are logging dead last in pace (95.96). But they have made quite a big jump to 13th (99.17) in pace over their last four games.
At the center of their quicker pace is Julius Randle’s resurgent play. Randle has been playing with a different verve in the Knicks’ daunting West Coast trip. He’s putting up monster numbers — 29.5 points, 12.0 rebounds, and 6.3 assists while shooting 48.3 percent from the field and 35 percent from behind the arc. The Knicks are 1-3 during that stretch, but they’ve been competitive in three of those four games.
“You know, we can easily be 3-1 in this trip. We know that. We let games slip away,” Randle told Mike Breen, referring to their close losses in Los Angeles and Utah.
Randle felt they finally put together a complete game after taking down the Golden State Warriors, 116-114, Thursday night in San Francisco.
“Hopefully, we can see that this is what we can do. We can compete with the best in the league — we can beat anybody, but we can also lose to anybody. It’s just our focus and mindset,” Randle said after dropping 28 points, 16 rebounds, and seven assists against the Warriors.
The Warriors (41-15) are the second-best team in the league behind the red-hot Phoenix Suns (45-10).
So what changed?
“Just playing at a faster pace and continuous energy, and then my natural basketball instincts take over after that,” Randle said. “Just energy and pace. From there, I just make the read. Make it with confidence and just be quick in everything that I’m doing.”
For the most part, the poor body language and jogging back to defense and iso-ball on offense are gone. Randle revealed that he made a conscious effort to watch the game, watch the other teams play, and make that adjustment himself.
“You know I think that can be said for the whole team. He drives it. When he plays like that, and we’ve said it all along, it drives the team if we play with pace in transition but also pace in the halfcourt,” New York coach Tom Thibodeau said of Randle. “But I loved the unselfishness of the team today, they did a lot of switching, and I thought we drove the ball and weren’t trying to shoot it over their size, and just try to make the right play, and when you play like that, you’re going to get good shots.”
Randle’s return to All-Star form has rejuvenated the Knicks, who are playing arguably their best stretch of the season since a 5-1 start. While the results do not reflect yet in the standings, the process has been encouraging for the Knicks, who improved to 25-31 and only 1.5 games behind the last play-in spot currently occupied by the Atlanta Hawks (26-29).
Randle’s adjustment has also helped Evan Fournier, who has been red-hot, averaging 20.8 points on 45.3 percent from downtown over 10.6 attempts in February. Fournier argued that Randle has been playing with pace ever since the start of the season.
“I think he just does it more consistently. The one thing he did change, though, it’s when they switch, especially with me; when they switch with my shot, the bigs are up and the guys trailing because otherwise I’m just popping up for a three, so I have both guys up, and he’s rolling. He’s rolling, so I can always hit him with like a little hoop pass, and that opens up the whole court for him to either shoot or just drive-and-kick or make a play,” Fournier said.
“We always see that play with Draymond (Green) and Steph (Curry) when Steph throws it up to Draymond. So we try to get our two-man game like weapons, and you know that’s something he’s starting to do really well, and that adds offense, man, you know. So it’s good for us.”
After Thibodeau was fired in Minnesota, the Warriors were one of the teams he visited during his sabbatical. He took some of their championship DNA with him when he took on the challenging job of reviving the Knicks franchise. More than just jacking up the Knicks’ three-point numbers and analytics, Thibodeau has been encouraging them to play selfless basketball like the Warriors.
“It was a really a solid team win. To win here, it takes a whole team playing as hard as you can on every possession,” Thibodeau said.
The Warriors had 27 assists on 42 field goals which the Knicks tried to match (24 assists on 39 field goals). They made up for the difference by crashing the boards (51-38) and having more free throws (24-33 against the Warriors’ 15-17).
It was just one win. But it’s a blueprint of how they should play. And Randle must lead the way.
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