Knicks forward Julius Randle reacts during the second half of...

Knicks forward Julius Randle reacts during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Miami Heat at Madison Square Garden on Friday, Feb. 25, 2022. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

LOS ANGELES — As the Knicks were imploding down the stretch Friday night in Phoenix, Julius Randle was back in the locker room explaining away his ejection on the phone.

"I called my oldest, and he was pretty upset with me," Randle said of his son, Kyden, 5. "He was pretty upset that I wasn’t down there playing. Yeah, it’s unfortunate, more unfortunate we didn’t get the win. My wife was like, call your son. He’s like the boss. I was like, man, I’ve got to face him. But yeah, I’ll probably think about him next time."

Randle had a lot to think about that night as he saw the Knicks blow a 14-point fourth-quarter lead without him on a night when he had been carrying them. He had scored 25 points before getting ejected with 2:40 left in the third quarter and the Knicks up by 10. And he had more to think about as the NBA levied a $50,000 fine on him Sunday afternoon.

The NBA explained the fine was for initiating the on-court altercation with Phoenix’s Cam Johnson, making contact with a game official in his attempt to get at Johnson, and his non-compliance with an NBA investigation. Even after official Dedric Taylor got between Randle and Johnson, Randle gave Johnson a hard shove, which resulted in his second technical foul and the ejection.

Even before word of the fine came down, Randle stood on the UCLA campus after the Knicks' morning shootaround Sunday and tried to put it all behind him.

He had been the best player on the floor that night before being ejected; teammate RJ Barrett said after the game that Randle was on his way to a 40-point night. Johnson scored 24 points after Randle was ejected, including 21 of his career-high 38 in the fourth quarter, including the 30-foot three-pointer that he banked in at the buzzer for a 115-114 Phoenix victory.

"It’s over with," Randle said on Sunday. "I don’t really have no take on it. I haven’t thought about it . . . I’m mad at myself I wasn’t there to be available for my team down the stretch, so really that’s what hurt me more than anything. I apologized to the guys for it. I don’t really care about the points. Just hurt I couldn’t be there down the stretch."

"It’s an emotional game," coach Tom Thibodeau said. "There’s going to be exchanges. You have to be careful not to cross over that line. Everyone understands that. it was unfortunate. I thought it was borderline, to be honest with you. You can’t put it in an official's hands to make a decision like that. We can learn from that."

It was just the latest disappointing finish for the Knicks, their seventh straight loss and 17th in 20 games heading into Sunday night’s meeting with the Clippers at Arena. They have found many ways to squander double-digit leads, including several in the 20s, and this was just another version.

"It’s got to turn soon," Randle said. "Got to turn. As long as we’re playing with bliss, as long as we have an opportunity to go out there, we owe it to each other, to ourselves, to give it everything we have and compete and play to win.

"You know, the unfortunate part is we haven’t been able to close so many of these games we’ve been in — what are we, 25-38? We could be 38-25 very easily, as many games as we’ve lost down the stretch. So it’s unfortunate, but these are all learning experiences. You take your bumps and bruises, keep moving on and keep getting better."

Thibodeau has preached the importance of raising the level of intensity and attention in the fourth quarter, and he agreed that keeping on the same path can provide the change they need.

"You don’t change the way you approach things," he said. "You want to understand why you won or lost. You look at the things you didn’t do well, the things you didn’t do as well as you liked, and try to fix those things. There has to be a will, determination or mental toughness that goes into this. The missed free throw, there’s a rebounding opportunity. They’re not calling a foul in that opportunity. It’s going to be physical, there’s going to be contact, but you have to find a way to come up with the ball . . .

"Since the break, we’ve played well in the Miami game, the two Philadelphia games, we should’ve won the Phoenix game. We've got to keep our focus on togetherness and get out of this together."

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