Julius Randle lost his cool.
It was a throwback to last season, when Jalen Brunson wasn’t around and Randle’s anger was quickly unleashed and contributed to an ugly, spiraling season. But Randle seemed to have that under control when he reemerged as a 2023 All-Star.
Until Saturday in Los Angeles.
Randle committed a technical foul late in the third quarter for elbowing Clippers’ Mason Plumlee in the chest. After the whistle, Randle went after the officials and appeared annoyed with a Knicks security guard near the team bench.
It was an ugly scene and impossible not to correlate with Randle’s lousy basketball performance. With Brunson injured and in street clothes, Randle missed 19 of 24 shots from him as the Knicks lost their third straight Saturday, 106-95, falling from fourth to fifth in the Eastern Conference behind the Brooklyn Nets.
Randle’s collapse was a critical point. The three free throws (two by Plumlee for foul, one by Kawhi Leonard for technique) gave the Clippers the lead to start the fourth quarter. It also started LA’s 9-0 run and the Knicks (39-30) never recovered.
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Although Randle blamed the umpires on the court, it was an even contest with the umpires allowing more physicality. Another possible explanation for Randle’s frustration is simple exhaustion. His 34 minutes on Saturday placed him as the league leader in total minutes played. Randle also didn’t have Brunson to share the load, and fellow running mate RJ Barrett struggled Saturday as he shot 5-for-12.
He was contrasted by the dominance of Leonard, who scored 38 points for the Clippers’ third straight win. Randle, the reigning Eastern Conference Player of the Week, shot just 18-of-63 during the three-game losing streak.
Meanwhile, Brunson missed his third game with a “sore foot.” He returned Thursday in Sacramento, but only lasted half as long before aggravating the injury and limping into the locker room.
The Knicks certainly miss him.
Tom Thibodeau told reporters that Brunson underwent an X-ray, which came back negative, classifying the injury as a bruise. Otherwise, Thibodeau, who is vague about injuries, would not provide a recovery timeline other than “by the time you’re released, you’re clear.”
Immanuel Quickley again replaced Brunson as the starting point guard, and his play was under the microscope after shooting a paltry 6-for-27 in the previous two games. Quickley responded Saturday with a great effort, 26 points, 10 rebounds, but he couldn’t overcome Randle’s misery.
The Knicks will play the Lakers on Sunday at Crypto.com Arena, meaning back-to-back games at the same venue but against different opponents. Randle has said that he is more motivated to play against his old Lakers team, but he also needs to refocus.