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Knicks 95, Cavaliers 86: ‘Dear Julius, we’re sorry’

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Are the Knicks… good?

New York Knicks v Cleveland Cavaliers
The face defenses see right before Randle either scores or gets an assist.
Photo by David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images

Julius Randle once again displayed his dazzling abilities during Tuesday night’s 11-point victory over the Cavaliers in Cleveland, tallying 28 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists for his seventh career triple-double and first as a member of the Knicks.

Randle’s performance came in front of roughly 300 fans at the Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse, and the victory gives the Knicks a two-game winning streak, something they accomplished only three times total last season. The Cavs, which entered the game at 3-0, were missing a boatload of bodies, including Kevin Love, while the Knicks were without Alec Burks, both rookies and Dennis Smith Jr., not to mention Austin Rivers.

In the end, all that really mattered was Randle. He ran the show throughout the evening, playing a game-high 44 minutes, amassing amazing numbers and looking like an All-Star. After tonight, he’s averaging almost 25 points, 11 rebounds and 8 assists through four games.

Coming off that 20-point beatdown of the Milwaukee Bucks, Tuesday night felt like a classic letdown game for the Knickerbockers franchise, only this version of the Knicks didn’t get the memo. The early goings were back and forth, and four minutes into the first quarter, right on schedule, Tom Thibodeau called his first timeout, even though the Cavs were only up 6-5.

Since Thibs called such a quick timeout, it’s only appropriate that we take a short breather to address the intense impact Thibs has had on the Knicks. It’s difficult to describe in mere words how much of a difference Thibodeau’s coaching seems to be making on the team. The rotation is tight, guys know when they are going to get opportunities, and they understand what is expected of them. Those who capitalize are rewarded with further minutes. No one wants to draw the ire of Thibs. It only took more than 20 years and a dozen coaches, but the Knicks may have finally found the right replacement for Jeff Van Gundy.

Back to the action: Randle had a stellar first quarter, with help from Reggie Bullock, who nailed each of his first two threes and finished with 17 points on the night. Elfrid Payton’s jump shot didn’t have the same sizzle as Wednesday (he finished 6-15 from the field), but he too played an impressive game against the Cavs (14 points, 8 rebounds, 7 assists, 2-4 from three).

After a somewhat sloppy start, the Knicks kicked into gear midway through the first period, and by the end of the quarter were up 29-15.

Early in the second quarter, it was feeling like the Bucks game all over again. Most impressively, the Knicks were draining threes like they’re the best three-point shooting team in the NBA or something.

Unlike Milwaukee, however, Cleveland didn’t collapse. After falling down by as much as 16, the Cavs crawled back and were neck and neck with the Knicks by midway through the second. A familiar feeling began permeating the air. This was the Knicks we know. The Cavs were going to take the lead and never look back.

Nope.

The Knicks went into the break up by seven, and in the second half mostly protected their lead, minus a few disgusting minutes in the fourth quarter that included an eight second violation and more turnovers than your grandma’s pastry party. Timely hoops from the likes of Randle and RJ Barrett helped the Knicks overcome their struggles, and when all was said and done, New York was victorious by a score of 95-86.

The Knicks are now 2-2, a record they haven’t achieved since 2015-16 under Derek Fisher. That’s probably the last time we’ll ever have to describe something Fisher did with the Knicks in a favorable fashion.

Notes:

> Some of Randle dimes are really and truly delicious. Seriously good enough to eat. If he can keep this up, he’s an All-Star and the Knicks are above average by default.

> Barrett didn’t have a great game, with 12 points on 4-15 shooting. But, as usual, he didn’t let his cold stroke stop him from trying to help in other ways. In addition to digging deep for some big buckets late, Barrett posted 7 rebounds, 2 assists and 2 steals.

> Frank Ntilikina continues to try and carve out a role for himself off the bench. He took advantage of the opportunity presented by the absences of DSJ and Immanuel Quickley, playing 16 rock solid minutes and finishing with 5 points (2-5 from the field including 1-3 from deep), 3 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 steals.

> Kevin Knox (6 points on 2-3 from the field and 1 rebounds in 16 minutes) continues to look competent. Not better than that, nor worse. Simply competent. Which marks a major improvement.

> The Knicks could really use some better dribblers. Whenever Elf was off the court, the Cavs perked up on defense and made things really difficult for Ntilikina, Barrett, or whoever else was trying to bring the ball up the floor. The Knicks were called for two separate eight second violations tonight, which is something that basically never happens.

> Mitchell Robinson, starting center, is correct. Mitch had himself a solid overall night, finishing with 9 points, 10 rebounds and 2 blocks. He didn’t pick up his first foul until late in the second quarter, and was generally good about fouling until late in the fourth when he was called for three quick fouls in what felt like three seconds.

> New York turned the ball over 25 times and shot 13-21 from the free throw line. Most of the time, that crap won’t fly.

Tonight, however, that crap did fly. It flew thanks to Julius Randle, who has had to handle a ton of heat since signing with the Knicks as a consolation prize two summers ago. Randle, who is only 26-years-old, could still theoretically be part of the team’s future, but he might also be traded at some point if his value continues to soar.

The future is for the birds, though. Tonight is a night to celebrate. As Ewing Finger Roll of Doom put it: ‘Dear Julius, we’re sorry.’

The Knicks play next on New Year’s Eve against the Raptors in Tampa, because we’re still in the midst of a once-in-a-century pandemic and Toronto can’t play home games in their home arena right now. Crazy stuff. Tip off is 7:30.

Stay safe out there, and Happy New Year everyone!