Every team has those games where the ball just isn’t falling through the net. Where it feels like someone adjusted the offensive sliders to work against them.
That’s what it felt like for the New York Knicks in their Monday-night matchup against Philly, at least in the second half. They shot 51.1 percent from the field en route to 58 points and a double-digit lead to end the first 24 minutes of play, only to let the Sixers back into the game with a 14-point third quarter.
Things were not looking well for a team that needed them to. The Knicks had lost three of their previous four games. With Joel Embiid and Tobias Harris out due to health and safety protocols, this felt like a win before the game even began, and they appeared to be on track to blow it as the Sixers cut their lead down to as low as a single point.
You probably know who stepped up to save the day. It was Julius Randle, who scored 20 of his game-high 31 points in the second half to secure a 103-96 victory for New York.
“That’s what All-Stars do,” Kemba Walker said of his teammate. “This is his team, man. When it’s winning time, got to go out there and get a win any way you can. He came with it down the stretch, made huge shots, made huge plays. It’s a big win for us.”
Walker was right. Randle essentially closed out the game for the Knicks with several big baskets. All 10 of his fourth-quarter points came with less than five minutes remaining in a tight game—the very definition of crunch time.
It started with the five minute mark having just come and gone. Despite his size, Randle’s never been an efficient post-up player. His greatness lies in combining his strength with impressive quickness, explosiveness, and handles for someone of his build, which he did to bully past Georges Niang for a layup.
On New York’s next possession down, Randle hit a 3-pointer to double their lead to six. Furkan Korkmaz would slice the Knicks’ lead back to three minutes later. The momentum was short lived, though, as Randle popped out to the top of the arc on the very next possession and confidently canned his fifth triple of the game, a season-high.
And with the Knicks slowly closing the book up nine with just over a minute remaining, Randle crashed the glass and came up with an offensive rebound and a bucket that gave him 30+ points for the fourth time this season, tied for second-most in the league.
“I really just trust my work, you know,” Randle said after the game. “Everything that I put into this game, the sacrifices, the long hours. I just trust my work, and there’s no better time to trust in than down the stretch when my team needs me the most.”
Prior to this game, Randle’s play can only be summarized as a mixed bag. Sure, the counting numbers of more than 20 points, 11 rebounds, and five assists looked stellar, but for every time he scored north of 20 through the first 10 games, he matched it with a sub-20 point outing.
Things weren’t bad. Yet it still felt like Randle had some consistency issues to iron out. Perhaps another spectacular performance to seal the kind of game that would’ve felt awful to lose is a step in the right direction.
“I think we took a step forward today,” Randle said. “All of us.”