Knicks were dealt a harsh Julius Randle reality

More from:

Mike Vaccaro

Steve Nash turns into Nets' brightest star

It's go time for Knicks and their faithful fans

Spirit of ’84: Knicks, Nets have chance to bring city back to playoff zenith

RJ Barrett's work ethic making him guidepost to Knicks success

Nets' biggest threat to NBA playoff failure is themselves

The rules of engagement are unforgiving at this time of the basketball calendar. What’s past is prologue. We know the Knicks wouldn’t have seen this splendid Sunday evening at Madison Square Garden without the yeoman efforts of Julius Randle all year. The chants of “M! V! P!” that regularly tumbled out of the Garden stands were testament to that.

But that doesn’t help much Monday morning. Monday morning the Knicks face a 1-0 deficit in this best-of-seven first-round playoff series with the Hawks, and the biggest culprit was their best player. That isn’t how they draw it up in the fiction section.

In real life, it’s different.

In real life, Randle took 24 shots and he missed 18 of them. In real life Randle, who has been everything to the Knicks, was completely overshadowed by Atlanta’s Trae Young, who means everything to the Hawks. This time of the basketball calendar, that kind of thing matters in a way that can have grievous consequences.

Those consequences for the Knicks?

After 72 games of grinding, after 72 games of blood and sweat, hard work and relentless resilience, after all it took to earn home-court advantage in this series, that advantage is now gone. The Hawks won 107-105 despite the pleadings of the 15,047 who made the Garden roar again, despite the efforts of Randle’s teammates to have their star’s back.

The season doesn’t end because of this.

But it does suddenly have a feeling of DEFCON-3 attached to it.

“It’s a series, it’s not a one-game elimination,” Derrick Rose cautioned. “It’s not a play-in game.”

But for the Knicks there is an immediate sense of urgency. Game 2 will have a little something extra now: a must-have undertone, lest they head to Atlanta on Friday in an 0-2 hole. It will help if they play a better first quarter than they did Sunday, when it seemed the bright lights and the deafening din got to them a little bit, a touch of stage fright that put them in an immediate 12-point hole.

And it will really help if the Randle they came to know, love and rely upon so heavily makes a reappearance.

“I’ve got to figure it out a little bit,” Randle said. “I’ll adjust.”

Said Rose: “It’s his first time in the playoffs. He’ll figure it out.”

It is a testimony to what kind of a season Randle has had that even in a game that ranks near the bottom of the 72 he has played in this year, he still produced a double-double (15 points, 12 rebounds) and he still hit, had things broken a little differently, what could have been the biggest shot of the night, a high-arching 3 that gave the Knicks a 98-97 lead with just over two minutes to play.

But things didn’t break different. Young took over, scoring seven of his game-high 32 points from there, including the game-winning floater with 0.9 seconds to go. And there was one fatal bad bounce, a loose ball that pinballed from RJ Barrett’s hands to Bogdan Bogdanovic’s hands. If Barrett gains possession, the Knicks have the ball up 3 with less than a minute left.

He didn’t. Somehow the ball settled in Bogdanovic’s fingers, and somehow he was comfortably behind the line. He stroked it, and splashed it, a killer 3 that tied the game at 103 with 55 seconds left.

At the end, it was a long walk back to the train platforms and the parking garages for the hoarse masses. And it will be a long wait for Wednesday night for Randle. Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau thought he was too unselfish Sunday night. Randle thought that might’ve been so.

More to the point, he’d waited his whole life to participate in an NBA playoff game. When it arrived, the spirit was willing, and it fully embraced a fun, restorative night at the Garden. But his game was lacking. It happens. It just happened at the worst possible time.

“Trust the path,” Thibodeau said.

“I’m not making any excuses, I’ve got to be better,” Randle said. “And I will be better. I’ll leave it at that.”

It’s actually non-negotiable. These Knicks really do channel their fabled hit-the-open-man antecedents, they really are a whole far more accomplished than the sum of their parts. They’ve proved that across 72 games. But Randle is the one who makes that sum hum. A game like this is like the transmission falling out of your car. He’s got to be better.

Share this article:

Source: Read Full Article