TORONTO — When the Knicks arrived at Scotiabank Arena on Friday night, Julius Randle was one of the first players on the court for pregame warmups, earlier than his usual on-the-court work, as he tested his right knee.
He was listed as questionable with knee inflammation, and while he was on the floor, coach Tom Thibodeau described him as a game-time decision. But for Randle, the decision already had been made. He penciled himself into the lineup, and even with the decision in hand, he was on the floor to the final buzzer.
Randle has played every game for the Knicks this season — including 38 minutes Thursday — and was back out there Friday on the second night of a back-to-back set. He contributed 20 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists as the Knicks (12-7) beat the Raptors, 119-106, for their third straight victory.
“You almost come to expect that from him,” Thibodeau said. “If he can go, he’s going. And I love that about him. He wanted to get out there and he warmed up early to see how he would feel. And then he got with the medical people. But Julius, he gives you what he has. He doesn’t take days off.”
Randle and the rest of the Knicks have earned a three-day breather before facing the Bucks in Milwaukee in the In-Season Tournament quarterfinals on Tuesday night.
“All the time,” Randle said when asked about pushing his way onto the court. “You all should know that by now. I think it’s more we just love to play. It’s not really about load management. We just love to play basketball. Me personally, I love to play basketball, so if I can play, I’m going to play.”
Randle built on what has been a solid week; he has averaged 25.5 points, 11.3 rebounds and 6.0 assists in his past four games.
While Randle getting on the floor helped, the Knicks got contributions up and down the lineup on this night, most of it from the Villanova alumni. Jalen Brunson scored 22 points, Donte DiVincenzo added 21 on seven three-pointers off the bench and Josh Hart had 17 off the bench — including 15 consecutive Knicks points in the third quarter as they extended their lead from 73-67 to 88-75.
“Oh. I had no idea,” Hart said. “I had no idea. I wish I did. Boy, I would’ve started jacking. I would’ve tried to make it 20 or 25. I felt like I had the hot hand a little bit, but I didn’t know until after the game when somebody told me.”
This came just a few days after Hart had talked about struggling to find his rhythm. With jokes flying around in the locker room after the game, Randle was asked three times about different aspects of the game and had the same answer to each.
“I think the only reason we really won today is we got Josh Hart’s usage up,” he said. “I just think Josh, when his usage goes up, it’s just like great things happen for our team.”
The Raptors trailed by only 78-75 after a dunk by Precious Achiuwa with 2:51 remaining in the third quarter, but Hart took over in ways that could not have been predicted.
He had scored a layup and a three-pointer just ahead of Achiuwa’s basket and then scored the Knicks’ next 10 points. That made it 15 consecutive without another teammate scoring until Immanuel Quickley went to the line with 2.1 seconds left in the period. When Quickley sank two free throws, the Knicks took a 90-77 lead into the fourth quarter. The Raptors would not get closer than nine after that.
DiVincenzo shot 4-for-5 from three-point range in the fourth quarter, finished at 7-for-9 and extended his two-day total to 33 points on 11-for-17 shooting from outside the arc.
When asked about his former Villanova teammates — and with Hart begging for praise from a few lockers over — Brunson was not going to give another assist.
“I do not care about Josh, do not care about Donte,” he said, trying to hold a straight face. “Do not care about either one of them. Really I don’t. Bad people.”