Home sports Knicks’ big-picture goals require Julius Randle back to his best #englishheadline #Knicks #bigpicture #goals #require #Julius #Randle

Knicks’ big-picture goals require Julius Randle back to his best #englishheadline #Knicks #bigpicture #goals #require #Julius #Randle

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For the same jeering Knicks fans who were so coldly muted last spring by Trae Young, this was a holiday season feast that included two servings of dessert. If it wasn’t Game 6 of the first round of the playoffs, it sure felt close enough. 

Coach Tom Thibodeau’s vintage defense returned with a vengeance after Friday night’s blowout loss to the Suns, surrendering 33 points to Young and yet holding the Hawks to 90, including only 14 in the fourth quarter. The Knicks’ high-flying farm system of Obi Toppin, Immanuel Quickley, Jericho Sims and Quentin Grimes was all over and above the court, putting on a show in Atlanta that had fans dreaming up big-picture possibilities for down the road. 

Grimes had the nerve on the fast break to dribble behind his back on Young and throw up an alley-oop to Toppin, who windmilled it home with one hand. Alec Burks, 30-year-old wise man starting for the resting Kemba Walker, had the nerve to ring up 23 points, including 15 in the decisive third quarter, to define a 99-90 victory that snapped Atlanta’s seven-game winning streak and, of greater consequence, gave the Knicks a jolt of much-needed confidence in case these teams meet up for another best-of-seven in the spring. 

That’s assuming the Knicks (11-9) make it back to the best-of-seven portion of the spring. As encouraging as this result was, 24 hours after their sixth Garden defeat, it’s hard to see the Knicks landing one of the Eastern Conference’s top six seeds (they finished fourth last year) and staying clear of the dreaded play-in tournament if Julius Randle doesn’t return to 2020-21 form. 

Or at least a whole lot closer to 2020-21 form than he is right now. 

Knicks
Julius Randle has now scored in the single-digits two games in a row.
EPA

Everyone remembers how much Randle struggled against Atlanta in the playoffs, and how no right-minded fan could hold it against him, not after he led the Knicks to a 41-31 breakthrough season. In Saturday night’s rematch, the Hawks again reduced Randle to a non-efficient and non-impactful scorer, holding him to eight points on 3-for-14 shooting. This time around, even without four members of their rotation, the Knicks had too much complementary firepower for it to matter. 

Yes, Randle did grab 11 rebounds and dish out four assists and make a driving layup that felt important when it beat the third-quarter buzzer. 

“I thought he made a lot of good plays for us,” Thibodeau said. 

“Even if he’s not scoring a lot,” RJ Barrett added, “he’s doing so much out there.” 

But if the Knicks are to make the playoffs and make some noise while there, Randle will need to be more than a spirited rebounder and facilitator. 

After averaging 24.1 points and shooting 45.6 percent from the field and 41.1 percent from 3-point range, winning the league’s Most Improved Player Award and being named All-NBA second team last season, Randle was down to 19.8 points per game, a career-low 42 percent from the field, and 33.9 percent from 3-point range this season when he took the floor Saturday. He has now scored 17 combined points over his last 64 minutes. The first week of November 2019 was the last time Randle failed to reach double figures in back-to-back games. 

Knicks
Julius Randle was 0-3 from behind the arc against the Hawks.
Robert Sabo

Of course, he was expected this year to take his game to that vague place known as “the next level.” In his case, the next level would be the kind of improvement allowing Randle to move the Knicks closer to legitimate title contention with a postseason series victory, if not two. 

To that end, and to his credit, Randle has made a concerted effort to connect with and inspire Evan Fournier, who scored 20 against the Hawks. But Randle also has to find something within to rediscover what he has lost. 

Last season, Randle was everything the fans could want in a star. He performed at a high level almost every night, and he embodied the everyday grit that defines the average New Yorker. Randle fell hopelessly in love with his new home, and his new home fell hopelessly in love with him. 

But even with a guaranteed salary north of $20 million, it isn’t easy carrying a sports franchise in the big city. Randle just made it look that way. 

He seems to be lugging a heavier burden these days, and at times the game looks like a joyless pursuit to him. Randle needs to figure out how to maximize his skills inside this revamped starting five, and how to flourish at the same time as Fournier, the way they flourished together against the Lakers. 

Meanwhile, as he struggles for his Knicks, Randle has reminded everyone how hard it is to carry a New York team. He will turn 27 on Monday. Maybe he’ll give himself a birthday gift next week by playing better and lightening the load.



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#Knicks #bigpicture #goals #require #Julius #Randle

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