The Knicks survived Tuesday night. He breathed and spilled for a while, but he survived. They jumped out to an early 10-0 lead in the LeBron-Les Lakers. He took a 25-point lead, and was probably sick 8-2 away from Frank Vogel and hurt Anthony Davis overnight.
The Lakers were back. Avery Bradley World b. Started to make shots like Free. Russell Westbrook returned the watch to 2017. And when old friend Carmelo Anthony hit an icy patch with his shooting (he was shooting 3 to 46.1 percent before this 2-8) he hit a home dunk with 1:26 left. 79-79 equaled third.
Still, the Knicks won 106-100. When they need to collect wins in any way they are on a part of their schedule and there is no requirement in NBA bylaws to register with star games that have been won by the absence of a star. It was the second game of a seven-game stretch against potential playoff qualifiers.
“We got ours together,” Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said, “and finished it well. That’s what we have to do.”
There was a curious piece of that closeout though. The Knicks never let the Lakers advance. And the Knicks also played short: no Derrick Rose, no Taj Gibson, no Mitch Robinson. That means some make-up went on throughout the rotation. This is, in theory, an extra long work shift for Julius Randall.
Except for a four-second stretch in just nine minutes, Randall picked up two quick fouls to protect his fellow Kentucky Wildcat ex-Pat, Anthony Davis. That was their fourth and fifth mistakes. Randall went to the bench, not happy. Davis fired two foul shots.
The Knicks held a 90-86 lead. The antennae of the garden burst. The flood seemed imminent.
Except for a funny thing.
The Knicks ran away. Emmanuel Quickley made a couple 3s. Alec Burks made one shot and a couple of free throws. In less than four minutes it was 15-7. It was a 105-93 Knicks lead. All with Randall on the bench. And an aspect of the Lakers came courtesy of Randall, after his foul-trouble frustration yielded a technical foul.
All right. Let’s take a break here.
This does not imply that the Knicks are a better team without their best player. Not theirs. All you have to do is look at Randall’s full box score on Tuesday – 20 points, 16 rebounds, five assists – to remind him that he’s still his most needed player. That is an elusive truth.
But this is it: this is not the first time the Knicks have rallied in their absence this year.
And this is a long-standing problem. It is now clear that Randall, in a few nights, will try to bear every burden that the Knicks face. They have a new assortment of supporting players, and although Thibodeau has recently labeled it a “bulls-t”, sometimes players take time to gel, which is not clear. It takes patience. It takes patience.
Randall certainly believes: “That thing takes time, brother. Once that starts to click, we’re going to be a really good team.
On Tuesday we finally got a full glimpse of what Evan Fournier (26 points, 3 to 6-9) is capable of and set up Randall for some open looks; It is not easy to get both of them on the same page. Like Kemba Walker: At times, he and Randall look like they’ve been playing together for a decade, and sometimes they’ve been introduced to the pregame ship.
And see: Not all of this is in Randall. They have to fit in, sure, but so do new faces. Both factions need to do better than do this work. A year ago, Randall could claim to be the undisputed alpha dog in the Knicks lineup every night because there was no one to challenge the character until Rose arrived.
Nix is his creation, Thibodeau is his co-author. The ball was constantly in his hands, and the offense went through him on every possession. It was glorious on most nights.
The cramps are still intact. Just not very often. There is no more. The Knicks are not a good team without their best player, but they sometimes play better without him because they are not forced to rely on him.
It has to evolve. That should change. The Knicks are still capable of some terrific things this year. He only arrives at Randall’s company, not without him.