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Knicks 111, Clippers 97: “Why are the starters still in?”

RJ Barrett returned from injury, Julius Randle returned from limbo.

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Los Angeles Clippers v New York Knicks Photo by Stephen Gosling/NBAE via Getty Images

Disclaimer: that headline is not a dig at Tom Thibodeau.

That headline, courtesy of hockeybeaverton, speaks volumes of what the New York Knicks (3-4) did to the Los Angeles Clippers (3-3) on Monday as they ran the visitors out of MSG by beating them 111-97.

Here’s the context.

Fourth quarter. Knicks up by 14, 102-88. Paul George handles the rocks, dribbles it up the floor, crosses halfcourt, passes it to new teammate James Harden right behind the arc. Josh Hart—sporting a big-ass man-bun instead of braided hair—covers him tightly. 4:34 left on the clock.

The Beard attempts a pass if you can even call it that, but Mitchell Robinson comes out of nowhere to bat it, drop it to the ground, recover, and steal it.

Ball goes to Jalen Brunson who crosses the court sprinting the other way on a 2-vs-1 including himself, the aforementioned Hart clad in orange and blue, and a lost Harden backtracking on his debut with the Angeleno ballclub.

Brunson with the 101 bounce pass to Hart. Harden can’t recover in time. The Clippers as a whole can’t, either. Easy layup. 104-88.

Why are the starters still in? Timeout Clips. Ty Lue empties the bench. Ball game, then and there.

No, it wasn’t that easy. It took the Knicks welcoming back two players: RJ Barrett and Julius Randle.

One was coming off missing the last two games and scored his 5,000th (and some more) point as a member of the New York Knickerbockers.

The other one was coming off 14 days off, one could say without anybody batting an eye. That’s harsh but true, and the Knicks are going nowhere without Ju. So it was good to have the lone All-Star of the bunch back and doing his thing. Baby steps, we getting there.

Barrett hit the ground running, bagged 26 points shooting 9-of-16, and hit a couple of treys—but turned the ball over five times.

Randled topped all of that: shot more shots (21) hitting the same nine, scored three triples of the eight he attempted, and of course committed six turnovers ‘cause—as philosopher Russell Westbrook would say—why not?

Had it not been for the Clippers being an absolute mess at taking care of the ball—they found a way to lose the turnover battle 22-20—and for the offensive rebounding of Mitchell Robinson, perhaps the outcome would have been a bit different, even flipped in favor of the West Coast surfers.

Mitch, who sports mits larger than Echo Park, pulled down 15 rebounds, nine offensive, six on D. Scored 13 points against the Clips. Gave them no chance inside the paint. Committed four thefts yet only two personal fouls. Best game of the season for him, bar none.

Peep the O-board leaderboard, pinch yourself, then peep again.

Someone had to be moved to the bench to make for RJ. That man, of course, was Hart. This is what he said following Friday’s loss and ahead of Monday’s matchup.

“Listen, I just got to make a fucking shot. That’s all it is,” Hart said.

Shooting 4-of-9 from the floor, 1-of-4 from 3-point range, and one-for-one from the stripe (for a total of 10 points) adding seven dimes, three steals, and two steals to that is what he did. Can’t complain.

Quentin Grimes had another no-offense-all-defense type of game, scoring three points.

Jalen Brunson was (very) off, and we can thank the rest of the boys for bailing him out because the shooting was low-volume, low-accuracy, with JB scoring just seven points on 12 shots and only five pops not counting freebies. He found a way to pass the rock for six assists while grabbing three rebounds and stealing three possessions, but this was not the Brunson we know.

Immanuel Quickley wasn’t great but he wasn’t forcing the issue, hoisting just five shots for seven points in 20 minutes. Donte DiVincenzo bagged 12 pops and pulled down six rebounds. Isaiah Hartenstein scored six with three rebounds.

The Knicks won the glass wars without breaking a sweat, 48-31. They pulled down 18 boards to LA’s seven such scoops. All of that also helped New York go away with a massive fast-break edge, scoring 26 points on the run.

The Clippers might be loaded, but they are hella old. Thus, their six fast-break points and half-court-heavy offense.

Said coach Lue after the game when asked why he removed his starters from the affair: “They had 34 points in the fourth quarter, we weren’t getting stops, there wasn’t any need to take a chance on someone getting injured. No way we could’ve won that game down 16 with the way we were playing offensively, so I just got my guys out.”

Said coach Thibs after the game: “Second half we found a rhythm. Saw the ball go in, the playmaking was terrific.”

The news coming out of this matchup will focus on one and just one thing: “James Harden and the Los Angeles Clippers built a superteam only to lose to the New York Knicks.

We should read: “Jules is back, and as Ty Lue himself said ‘I knew it was gonna happen’.”

The ladies and gentlemen attending Monday’s game cheered JR and booed JH. Speaking after the game, Randle said “I definitely felt the energy of the fans, them getting behind me. It was much needed.

“After a rough start, I tried to stay even-keeled, level-headed,” Randle said, ”I know it always comes back around—but having energy from the fans, definitely made it easier for me.”

Randle grabbed 10 rebounds for the sixth time in seven games this season. Dished out three dimes. Scored 27 points on Monday, his lone 20+ point game this season. He also swished more than five shots for the first time, as well as going a perfect 6-for-6 from the charity stripe. He hit 3-of-8 long-range bombs. Again, baby steps. But if the shooting and scoring can stay on those reasonably good levels, then the Knicks will be more than good.

“[Randle] found a rhythm. I’m not worried about him scoring the ball,” Thibodeau said about JR after the game. “We know how gifted a scorer he is.”

“We took a step forward today,” Randle stated. “Just got to keep building on it.”

Next in line: 19-yeard-old French phenom Victor Wembanyama and the (still) Pop-led San Antonio Spurs. Tip-off at 7:30 ET on Wednesday, inside the comfortable confines of MSG. Don’t miss it.