The New York Knicks inability to get the ball into their best clutch player with the game on the line cost them a shot at beating LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers Tuesday night. Instead, they were reduced to a footnote to James’ historic night.
Everyone was bewildered why Brunson, a top-three clutch player in the league this season, was not rewarded with the most crucial play of the night for the Knicks after he willed them back from a six-point deficit inside the final two minutes.
Brunson gave the Knicks a chance to win it in the regulation after drawing an offensive foul from Anthony Davis with 4.5 seconds left.
But Brunson did not get the chance to complete his heroics. Instead, Julius Randle, who struggled with his shot all night, took matters into his own hands and opted for an isolation play against Davis at the baseline. James came to help and partially blocked Randle’s attempt, which didn’t beat the buzzer.
James and the Lakers dominated the extra five minutes as the Knicks folded up for the fifth time out of a league-leading eight overtime games this season.
“There were three options on that play. So they have to read the defense,” Thibodeau said. “LeBron [James] was on Jalen and [Anthony] Davis was on Julius, and depending on what they’re doing, they could go either way. So there were options on that play. That’s why it’s set up the way it is.”
With 4.5 seconds left, there was enough time to keep the Lakers’ defense guessing. But there was no cutting, screens, or moving off the ball — actions that could have disrupted James, who went for a double team.
Brunson, who finished with a game-high 37 points and six assists, didn’t fault Randle for taking the last shot at the end of regulation.
“Julius got open, so I hit him. He had [Anthony Davis] sealed. Then he went baseline. They doubled him at the last second,” said Brunson, recalling the crucial play. “So it was difficult for [Randle] to take off the shot against those two guys [Davis and James].”
“It was tough, but he was aggressive. He had five extra minutes to do something about it. I’m not going to just be picky on that last play.”
Randle failed to redeem himself in the overtime, committing the Knicks’ two turnovers that hastened the loss.
Randle’s decision-making in crunch time has been suspect since he arrived in New York. Tuesday night’s loss made him look worse.
“Well, you got to read the defense,” said Thibodeau when asked if he preferred Randle over Brunson for the Knicks’ final shot. “You can’t just throw the ball. There are two primary scorers on that play, and they’re the two options (Randle and Brunson). There’s another option as well.”
For the season, Randle is averaging only 2.2 points on an atrocious 27.3 percent during clutch time, defined as minutes when the scoring margin is within five points with five or fewer minutes remaining in a game.
After that uninspiring final play in the regulation, Thibodeau slumped to 27th among all 30 NBA coaches in shot quality points per possession after a timeout, according to Shot Quality.
Thibodeau’s 1.03 Coaching ATO SQ PPP is below the 1.07 league average.
Denver Nuggets’ Mike Malone, Thibodeau’s former colleague under Jeff Van Gundy’s Knicks coaching staff in the 90s, and Brooklyn Nets’ Jacque Vaughn lead the league with 1.15 Coaching ATO SQ PPP.
So maybe Tuesday night’s loss wasn’t solely on Randle.
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