You just knew that this game couldn’t be the beautiful coronation that we all wanted it to be.
Julius Randle got named an All-Star shortly before last night’s game against the Warriors. It was awesome. As a fan, I haven’t felt the level of pride and excitement that that brought me in a while, so I can only imagine what it must have felt like for Julius. And before the game, you could see in his face and hear in his voice just how much it meant to him:
M-V-P CHANTS from Knicks fans pic.twitter.com/5TWHRzTSVQ— The Strickland (@TheStrickland) February 24, 2021
That would just be the first of many heart-warming moments to come out of this game, despite the ultimate losing nature of it all.
I should address too, there were fans back in the building for this game, 10% capacity per new New York state regulations. I didn’t quite know how to feel about it. On one hand, we got “M-V-P” chants for Randle at the outset and every time he shot free throws. There were loud boos directed at the horrible officiating (more on that shortly). Mike Breen couldn’t hide his giddiness in his commentary at having fans allowed back in the Garden.
But on the other hand, we’re still (unfortunately) in the middle of a pandemic, with cases still at unacceptable levels and the death toll still mounting. A part of me wants to slap the other part of me that enjoyed the fans being back in the building and say “You could wait another few months until vaccine rollouts have take more of a hold, idiot!” Whatever, I guess, considering it’s out of my control, I’ll just trust that all of the people in attendance took the proper precautions (though I saw more than a few people with masks completely off on the MSG broadcast scans of the crowd — not great!).
Anyway, the game got started, and the Knicks fell in a hole early to the Warriors. This hasn’t been all that unusual for the Knicks — first quarter deficits are pretty common, followed by bounce-backs late in the first and early second quarters.
The biggest and best part of the first was Julius coming out with the fire of someone who had just been crowned an All-Star and wanted to show out for his home crowd for the first time in almost a year. He didn’t disappoint, with nine points, five assists, and three rebounds after the first frame.
That's an ALL-STAR right there pic.twitter.com/ToCcEdjUrE— The Strickland (@TheStrickland) February 24, 2021
Elfrid Payton also probably played his best quarter this season (at least to my eye) in the first quarter, and really made a case for actually being the guy you wanted out there to try to win the game. That isn’t always the case, as some of his “best” nights are often filled with stats that don’t seem to really affect winning. In this game, he was taking what the defense was giving the Knicks, which was letting Elf get to the rim with some regularity.
His bench counterpart, Derrick Rose, honestly had an even better game, though, at least in the first half. Rose had 12 points and six assists in just the first half, on his way to 16 and eight for the night overall. More than his scoring, though, he just brought a huge amount of energy to the floor in the first half when the Knicks needed it most, and it paid off in a big way, giving New York a 59-55 lead at the break.
D-Rose has the touch tonight pic.twitter.com/Qrs3HYzzCc— The Strickland (@TheStrickland) February 24, 2021
Then came the second half.
The Knicks were ass in the third quarter. There’s no other way to put it.
Golden State opened the third on a tidy 14-2 run, turning a 4-point Knicks lead at the half into a 10-point deficit just four minutes into the second half. They would end the third down 94-85, when Steph Curry then hit the bench for a breather going into the fourth.
That’s the time when you need to strike against the Warriors, and the Warriors certainly did their part as far as ineptitude, not getting their first points to fall until the 6:36 mark of the quarter. Unfortunately, the Knicks only managed to score seven points of their own during that time period, which only narrowed the deficit to five with Curry checking back in. That’s not gonna cut it.
And, predictably, it didn’t. Curry scored 11 down the stretch, and the Knicks continued being relatively inept at offense. Randle didn’t get the ball nearly enough, which was in large part due to Rose and Payton reverting to some of their worst tendencies like hijacking possessions for themselves. That’s particularly troublesome when you’re two guards who can’t really shoot and you’re ignoring your literal All-Star on the floor.
On top of it, the officiating was shit in this game. The Knicks made a point to try to get to the cup for most of the game (as they do) and were receiving barely any calls. On the other end, the Warriors were largely content to hang out around the perimeter (as they do), but were getting calls left and right. My philosophy about officiating is generally that if you have to blame officiating for a loss, you weren’t going to win the game anyway. The Knicks have lost plenty of poorly-officiated 20-point losses where a few swing calls wouldn’t have done a damn thing. But this year, with something to play for, they’re still getting the “LOLKnicks” whistle, often against teams worse than them, despite being a playoff team. I guess, just like “culture,” good will with the refs needs to be built up slowly as well.
The key call that screwed the Knicks down the stretch in this one was ultimately this (alleged) foul on RJ, which was even challenged by Thibs and upheld after review because RJ “hip-checked” Oubre:
The game was 105-102 Warriors at that point. Oubre would hit both free throws, the Knicks got frustrated and got T’d up a couple times (including Randle getting ejected on his big night), and ultimately the Warriors won the game.
As commenter ISwearImNotJamesDolan said, “Julius is a real All-Star without that real All-Star whistle.” Yes, and the Knicks are a playoff team without a playoff team whistle. I guess we’ll just have to be patient.
— More Randle heart-warming stuff: His mom recorded a message for him that MSG aired on the broadcast and the Garden aired live for Julius to watch during the first quarter break:
We’re not crying, you are— The Strickland (@TheStrickland) February 24, 2021
Julius Randle’s mom with a surprise message for her son pic.twitter.com/nwMh7gSJqc
I definitely almost got a little teary-eyed during that, and not necessarily because I was mirroring Julius, who just seemed to be so happy. But his happiness is what made me want to almost happy cry myself. This level of joy is pretty rare to find:
I think it’s easy to forget sometimes that these athletes we watch all the time are humans, too. I’m sure Julius saw and heard all of the mocking of his play last year from fans to some degree (I host a pretty popular Knicks podcast, and I’m certainly not absolving myself from criticizing Randle’s play to the Nth degree last year), but because the world is full of shitty people, he probably also had to deal with threats to him, non-basketball-related insults, etc. on social media on a daily basis last year.
Yet this dude never wavered in saying that he wanted to play good basketball for the fans, bring respectability back to the Garden, etc., and he’s gone ahead and delivered on that promise this year in spades. I’ve done a total 180 on Julius’ play this year, mostly because he himself took stock of what he needed to do better and did a 180 on his own. But on top of becoming more appreciative of his play, I’ve become more appreciative of Julius the man. He just seems like such a genuine dude, a good father, and a nice person, and I’m really proud to have him as the face of the New York Knicks right now.
— So, too, is assistant coach Kenny Payne, who was effusive in his praise of Julius when he got the post-halftime interview with Rebecca Haarlow:
Kenny Payne just so genuine in his comments about Julius Randle— The Strickland (@TheStrickland) February 24, 2021
“Words can’t really express how grateful I am to have him in my life” pic.twitter.com/KMFp07npM5
— On a hilarious note, Clyde continued his trend of hitting on players’ moms live on air after the video from Randle’s mom played:
After Julius Randle’s mom gives a touching message to her son...— The Strickland (@TheStrickland) February 24, 2021
CLYDE: “Mom look like his sister. Mom looking very young” pic.twitter.com/r8CtRuSzcr
I say this is a continuing trend because apparently the “sister” line is Clyde’s go-to pickup line:
Zo Trier's mom is in the building.— Posting and Toasting (@ptknicksblog) March 7, 2019
Clyde: "(She) looks like his sister!"
Clyde, you sly old fox pic.twitter.com/LUbIw5EeAc
Stay thirsty on air, Clyde. We love you.
— Thibs really needs to work on loosening up his rotations when the situation calls for it. I’m getting tired of watching this starting lineup sleepwalk through the first nine minutes of (usually third) quarters knowing that there’s absolutely zero accountability for their actions and they’ll get their playing time regardless of their level of play. Thibs will call a timeout to yell at his guys, but won’t actually punish them by removing them from the game early. It’s like if a parent yelled at their kid for playing video games instead of doing their homework, but then handed them a new game and turned around to let it happen all over again.
— I’m pretty eager to NOT talk about some of the bad performances in this game, because I’d rather focus on Randle becoming an All-Star. So I’ll just say this: Immanuel Quickley is playing scared right now. I think it’s safe to say that his floater not going down lately is playing with his confidence a bit and making him hit the “rookie wall.”
RJ Barrett played probably one of his worst games of the season. Most of the time when RJ doesn’t have it going, he’s good about not forcing things and not actively hurting the team. That’s why I never really had a problem with his play during his first cold spell earlier this season. He was forcing things and actively making bad decisions and hurting the team in this game.
— To finish on a happy note, Obi Toppin had a great game. Seven points, two rebounds, a steal and a block in just 13 minutes of action. Taj Gibson was great in this game on defense, and Nerlens Noel was his usual mix of frustrating and brilliant (he had four stocks but still has hands of stone on offense), but I really hope that Thibs deviates from his “there has to be a pure center on the floor for 48 minutes” strategy and gives the Toppin/Randle experiment another chance while Mitch is out. This game would’ve been the perfect time to try — Obi could have defended Draymond and his nonexistent 3-point shot pretty easily, while Randle could have bodied up Wiseman and forced him to take 10-footers all day.
Anyway, that’s all I got. Let’s just try to enjoy Randle being an All-Star and leave it at that. Ultimately, the happy moments of pure Randle bliss from this game will outweigh the negativity of the game itself in our minds for years to come.