All-Stars — besides being elite talents — fight through poor-shooting games and still help their teams win.
Check another box for Knicks power forward Julius Randle.
With his minutes mounting all season, Randle looked like he had nothing in the tank across much of MLK Day’s noon match against the Magic.
Despite tired legs that led to a 5 of 19 shooting effort, Randle persevered, logged 40 minutes and made enough clutch plays in the final minute to pull the Knicks through in a 91-84 victory.
Despite many bricks and four missed free throws, Randle mustered 21 points, had 17 rebounds and his hard drive to the basket with the score tied and Orlando holding the momentum resulted in a layup with 56.8 seconds left. He also hit four free throws in the final 16 seconds to repel an Orlando miracle.
“A little sluggish,’’ Randle admitted. “Shots weren’t falling and [I was] missing layups. But through it all I just tried to stay in the game, stay focused, tried to impose my will on other parts — whether it’s my defense or my rebounding — and eventually down the stretch I was able to find some looks that I liked, step up and make some shots and make some free throws. That’s how the game is. It’ll reward you eventually. You’ve just got to be mentally strong, stay with it and try to play the game the right way and eventually it’ll come around.’’
Randle is averaging 37.3 minutes per night, and Thibodeau keeps becoming more impressed by his iron man.
“I loved the way he competed,’’ Thibodeau said. “We talked about that after the game. It was one of those games they did a great job guarding him and he kept fighting and fighting. He did other things to help us win. His rebounding was off the charts and he finally got to the line late in the game. That was critical. And those two loose balls when he was first to the floor was huge as well. He’s done so many things for the team all year.’’
Randle, averaging 22 points, has been asked about his massive minutes all season and he won’t ever talk about load management as many superstars do. But he’d like some Merlot.
“My body feels good, a couple of bruises from the game today, but my body feels great,’’ Randle said. “I prepared for this all summer and my conditioning, my body, feels great. To be honest though I’m ready to go home and I’m going to get a glass of wine and I haven’t had one in a couple of months. I’m going to get some wine tonight and enjoy the rest of the day with my wife and son before we go on this road trip.’’
The Knicks moved to 23-12 on MLK Day. As much as can be expected considering the fan-free arena, there was some pomp and circumstance for the holiday. Rookies Obi Toppin and Immanuel Quickley briefly addressed the empty stands before tipoff to say a few words about King.
“He showed us what it means to be a great leader and how powerful a voice can be,’’ Toppin said. During pregame warm-ups, King’s “I Have A Dream’’ speech played over the PA.
Orlando coach Steve Clifford was with Thibodeau on Jeff Van Gundy’s staffs in New York and Houston. They are still tight. “Tom is very much a mentor to me,’’ Clifford said. “Tom and I have had a friendship before that when he was an assistant at Harvard and I was at a Division II school in New Hampshire [St. Anselm]. We worked at camps. He took me under his wing. He taught me a lot about player development, how to communicate with players. We’re terrific friends. He was at our training camp last year and we’re in close contact.”
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