If you told Knicks fans before the season that Tom Thibodeau would be playing Julius Randle, Reggie Bullock, and RJ Barrett over 40 minutes in a random regular season game as their non-RJ first-round picks since 2018 combined for 19 total minutes, they would probably assume the worst.
Instead, it was a thrilling and historic night for this year’s Knicks and their fans as they improved to 30-27 with their fifth straight win in a convincing 117-109 victory against the Dallas Mavericks.
It was their first time with five consecutive victories since 2014, when Cole Aldrich was their starting center.
The Knicks felt in control most of the night, even when they fell behind, and a semblance of a culture with a true team feel is continuing to take form.
Julius Randle, who some feared would regress due to fatigue, made history of his own as he seemingly effortlessly scored 44 points, 10 rebounds, and 7 assists with just three turnovers. The emerging sharpshooter also made 6-11 three-point attempts.
Randle is the first Knick with at least 40 points, 10 rebounds, and 5 assists since the legendary Bernard King.
His second 40-point game of the season likely felt particularly good in his hometown, especially as he struggled in their last game against the Mavericks, with just 14 points on 5-20 shooting from the field and 1-7 from three in a loss.
Further proof of Randle’s motivation can be found on Instagram where after the game, he posted a clip from a Mavericks’ broadcast of Maxi Kleber getting a stop on him the previous game, following it up with a meme of Michael Jordan saying “...and I took that personally.”
For all the good vibes of watching Randle’s all-NBA season—we should probably start having the all-NBA discussion, as P&T’er David_SelfHatingKnicksFan noted—it was also delightful watching the struggles of ex-Knick Kristaps Porzingis, who familiarly struggled to find a rhythm all night with just 23 points on 8-20 shooting.
The Porzingis trade looked to be a disaster at the time, and there are still legitimate gripes to be had with how it was handled, but it is was certainly nice to watch the emerging star the Knicks acquired with that much criticized cap space pummel the centerpiece of that trade.
It was not just the Julius Randle show, however—RJ Barrett broke out of his mini-slump with another excellent performance with 24 points, 8 rebounds, and a trio of made threes on 9-18 shooting. It was particularly nice to witness RJ ice the game with his much-improved midrange jumper.
Nerlens Noel continued to dazzle on defense in the absence of Mitchell Robinson, Derrick Rose provided a steady hand with 15 points off the bench, and even Frank Ntilikina was let out of the doghouse for a few minutes to continue his season’s hot three-point shooting with an energizing corner three in the fourth quarter.
The Knicks’ defense wasn’t perfect, but it made life difficult on the Mavericks and Luka Doncic, who did have 19 marvelous assists but just 22 points on a 54 true shooting percentage.
It was disappointing to see Immanuel Quickley and Obi Toppin’s inconsistent play and playtime continue as they saw just five and seven minutes respectively, combined for just three points. Also concerning was the Knicks’ heavy minutes load, including Barrett playing 46 out of 48 minutes, but you would be hard-pressed to find many upset Knicks fans this morning. With Tom Thibodeau, you knew the questionable rotations, minutes load, and favoring of vets would likely come—it was merely a question of whether or not the team success and defense he created with the Bulls would come with it.
This is a season exceeding any fan’s wildest projections—and especially Vegas’—and as the Knicks sit firmly in the playoff picture with one of the top defenses in the league, for the first time in many seasons, it’s hard to find much to complain about.