It was the good and bad of Julius Randle. The Jekyll and Hyde that defined his previous two seasons with the Knicks.
After dominating most of Sunday’s victory over the Kings, Randle lost his temper with the referees and was ejected because of two quick technicals in the third quarter.
Randle was upset he didn’t receive a foul call on a drive, and he skipped a defensive possession to pursue the referee with animated complaints. Randle didn’t stop after the first technical, which prompted the second whistle and the power forward’s first ejection of the season.
Instead of blaming Randle for the tantrum, Tom Thibodeau focused on the responsibility of his teammates to restrain the power forward after the first technical.
“Just an awareness,” Thibodeau said. “Go grab him. It’s a dead-ball.”
Randle didn’t address the media after the Knicks’ 112-99 win.
“It’s an emotional game,” Thibodeau said. “When he got the first tech, we have to do a better job of helping him walk away. As a team, staff, all of us. The way it was going. And I get the frustration. It was a physical game. And he got hammered on the play. But he can’t let that – he had a great game going. We can’t let us get us sidetracked. There are going to be some miscalls. That’s part of it. Just keep competing. But when a guy gets frustrated, we got to make sure help.”
RJ Barrett wasn’t on the court for the ejection, but agreed that Randle should’ve been restrained.
“We’ve got to go grab him,” Barrett said. “I would have grabbed him if I was in there. We’ve got to grab him, can’t let him get another one.”
The incident soured an otherwise exquisite performance from Randle, who continued his hot streak with 27 points and eight rebounds in 27 minutes. The referee berating wasn’t consequential to the outcome — the Knicks were up 15 at the time and cruised — but it was also unnecessary.
Randle was on pace for a third consecutive game with over 30 points, and the Knicks (14-13) were winning their season-high fourth straight to climb over .500 for the first time since Nov. 16. They’re tied for sixth in the Eastern Conference with the Pacers, a surprising position considering they were 11th earlier this month.
But the victory took a toll beyond Randle’s ejection. Point guard Jalen Brunson suffered a sprained ankle in the fourth quarter and his status is unknown for Wednesday’s game in Chicago.
Without their two best players for the final nine minutes, Barrett (27 points) carried the Knicks to the finish line.
“I liked the start of the game,” Thibodeau said. “I thought we had good energy, good intensity on both sides of the ball. But then it got choppy. And every time it got choppy we responded. And I thought a lot of guys stepped up for us.”