A little over 48 hours later, Julius Randle emerged and spoke to the masses.
“It was Thibs’ decision,“ said the All-Star forward.
Tom Thibodeau decided to bench Randle for the full 12 minutes of the fourth quarter of Game 4 played last Sunday at the Garden. The Knicks ended up winning the matchup and will play Game 5 on Wednesday, leading the first-round series 3-1.
“We were searching, and we knew this game was going to be a challenge because of the late game on Friday,” Thibodeau said after the game. “That group (those starting Q4) got going, so at some point, you make a decision and rode that out.”
As explained by Zach Braziler of the New York Post, it wasn’t Randle decision to not address the media after Game 4, but rather one made by the New York Knicks organization. The franchise opens the podium to the “best performers” after each game to speak to beat reports, and they deemed Randle wasn’t one of them, thus allowing him to leave early.
“It was Thibs’ decision” says Randle when asked if he was upset about not playing in fourth quarter in Game 4. pic.twitter.com/rAK1uKDY1B— Barbara Barker (@meanbarb) April 25, 2023
Randle completed a full practice on Tuesday at the Tarrytown training facilities before the Knicks took a plane to Cleveland to face the Cavs in a win-and-clinch Game 5 for the visitors.
“At the end of the day, I just want to win,” Randle said. “You know, I’m a competitor. Obviously, I would like to play, but like I said, it’s Thibs’ decision.”
Randle said (up to you to believe him, as it’s all mind games in the playoffs) that his ankle is “fine” and it’s not really bothering him.
“Just [need to] get my rhythm and my legs back,” Randle added. “I’m not really wanting to take time off or sit down, so it’s new territory for me. But I’d rather be trying to find [that rhythm] while we’re winning than losing, obviously.”
When it comes to the actual decision to sit Randle and trust Obi Toppin for the final stanza of what turned out to be a pivotal Game 4, Thibs had more than a few reasons for doing so.
Randle had scored just seven points through the first three quarters (27 minutes) shooting 3-for-10 and missing all four three-point shots he attempted. He contributed just two boards, one assists, and one block on top of that paltry scoring outing.
Toppin, in 20 minutes, finished with five points, eight rebounds, and one assist. The Knicks outscored the Cavs by 11 points with Obi on the floor compared to getting outscored by Cleveland by two points in the minutes played by Randle.
Randle revealed that he and Thibs didn’t discuss his benching before the fourth quarter, which aligns with the version offered by Thibs after the game in which he said that he just decided to ride the hot hand after deploying the alternative unit at the start of the period.
Following Randle’s mini-presser on Tuesday, Tom Thibodeau spoke to those present at Tarrytown’s training center. Asked reasoned that the Knicks’ meltdown through the third quarter of Game 4 wasn’t just Randle’s fault.
“Not just [Randle], it was our team, the coach started. “The way we came out to start the third, we didn’t play well as a team, so the bottom line is you’ve got to win the game, and in the fourth quarter, we ended up going on a run.
“So you ride it out,” Thibs continued. “Those guys were playing well. So you know, you’ve got to ride it. You’ve got to make a tough decision, but you’re always gonna put the team first.” Thibs also said that the decision of benching Randle “was not easy,” adding that Randle “is gonna finish [games] 99% of the time.”
Asked about his visible lack of interest in defensive plays in Game 4, Randle answered that “it’s for you to judge” and that he “doesn’t know” if he could have done more on defense.
"Ju has been a leader since the day I came here. What he's able to do – while he's either on or off the floor – has been incredible. He's been special…He's been a leader. And we've always got his back. He wants nothing else but to win"— New York Basketball (@NBA_NewYork) April 23, 2023
— Jalen Brunson on Julius Randle pic.twitter.com/fGlrLTfzbe
What went down at MSG last Sunday is looking more like an oddity and a rarity than anything else.
“Whatever he has, we need every bit of it,” Thibodeau said at the end of his media briefing after training.
Jalen Brunson spoke after practice, too, saying that he is “not really too worried” about Randle “at all,” believing that the forward ”is going to come back and just be better.”
“When Julius is at his best, he’s very difficult to stop. I’m really not too worried about him,” the point guard said. “The way he comes in every day, works on his stuff, gets his routine in, gets his mind ready to go. He just has a next-day mentality for him.”
Brunson kept on going, saying that
Jalen Brunson said “[Randle’s] demeanor was great” through the fourth quarter while sitting on the bench and after the game. “He’s been a leader on and off the floor. We rally with him, we roll with him. That’s our guy. Just how he composed himself was fantastic,” added Brunson.
“He was as big part of us winning as anyone else, just because of how he was handling himself as a leader.
“He’s been great all year.”
Game 5 tips off today, Wednesday, April 26, at 7:00p ET. Knicks up 3-1. Cavs one from getting kicked out. It’s going down in The Land. You don’t want to miss it.