A historic night for Julius Randle ended with him picking up a technique, shooting an airball and yelling at a referee at the buzzer.
What a disappointment!
His 57 points, tied with Richie Guerin’s mark for the third-most in franchise history, were blighted by an ugly finish in a 140-134 loss Monday night to the Timberwolves, a loss wrought with a porous defense solidified by the Knicks outscored 11-3. in the last 2 ½ minutes.
The dagger was a layup by Minnesota’s Taurean Prince, the unlikely hero with 35 points, who made the shot just over Randle with 10 seconds remaining. Randle responded by throwing the ball in frustration, an automatic technique, and then throwing a contested airball on New York’s final possession.
“It’s a shame to waste a performance like that,” Tom Thibodeau told reporters. “You couldn’t ask for anything more.”
Randle’s shot that eclipsed 50 points was a 3-pointer that faded in the third quarter, the kind of conversion that can only seem so easy when a player is very hot.
It was momentous for a couple of reasons: The 3-pointer ensured that Randle became the eighth Knick to score 50 points in a game, the first since Carmelo Anthony set the franchise record with 62 points more than nine years ago. It tied the score after the Knicks trailed by as many as 17 points, which seemed to turn the momentum around permanently until New York’s offense froze in the final five minutes.
Along the way, Randle scored 26 in the third quarter alone, a franchise record for any quarter. He ended up shooting 19 of 29, including 8 of 14 on 3-pointers and 11 points from the free throw line. Randle, whose previous career-high was 46 points, added four rebounds in his 37 minutes.
It was sheet music to hang in Randle’s increasingly crowded memorabilia room. It only darkens the fourth quarter.
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“They got away with it,” Thibodeau said. “I got into a big hole. He fought his way out of it. And then he came up short at the end. But we were playing with fire the whole game.”
So it was both historic and embarrassing, especially for the defense. The Timberwolves, without leading scorers Anthony Edwards and Karl-Anthony Towns, scored with little resistance. The loss snapped a three-game winning streak for the Knicks (42-31), who are now two games ahead of the Nets for fifth place in the East with nine games remaining.
Despite missing leading scorers Edwards and Towns, the Timberwolves started the game on fire by scoring their first 10 field goals and building a 14-point lead in the first quarter. The Knicks’ defense was exceptionally loose, and the Timberwolves hit their shots at a tremendous rate.
It resulted in 79 points for the visitors in just the first half. But the Knicks agreed to play fast, responding with their own stack of buckets to cut the deficit from 17 to 9 before halftime. Randle scored 26 points in those first two quarters, including an impressive dunk and 1 on the lane.
He then scored 26 in the third quarter alone, and it was shaping up to be a crowning achievement at Madison Square Garden.
But he collapsed in the stretch.
“It felt like we were in the mud, a step back on everything,” Thibodeau said.