Injured Julius Randle fined, sits out as Knicks host Hawks
It would be easy for the Knicks to get distracted at this point in the season — by the dire situation in the standings, by the absence of an injured star in Julius Randle, by the circus atmosphere of a Garden villain visiting the Big Apple.
And then there are the ongoing non-injury frustrations for Randle, who has had a rocky season that further darkened on Tuesday when the NBA said he had been fined $40,000 for directing hostile language toward a game official.
That incident came after Sunday’s loss to the Jazz. The fine came down after the Knicks announced earlier on Tuesday that Randle would not play against the Hawks on Tuesday night because of a sore right quadriceps tendon.
But Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau struck a common theme about all of the above before the Knicks hosted Trae Young and the Hawks: Ignore everything else and focus on playing good basketball.
Easier said than done for a middling team such as the Knicks, but that was the coach’s goal, both for the key game against fellow play-in candidate Atlanta and beyond.
“Our thing is to play as hard as you can, play for each other and play winning basketball — that’s the most important thing," Thibodeau said. “We’ve got to keep fighting. You’re not eliminated until you’re eliminated.
“Crazy things happen in sports. Just win the next game. That’s all we’re thinking about.”
Thibodeau said Randle is day-to-day because of lingering soreness that likely needs rest to subside. That’s frustrating. But what about the other frustration, the kind that Randle showed when he got into it with Rudy Gobert of Utah after Sunday’s game? Randle has been fined four times this season by the NBA, if you’re scoring at home.
“You’re concerned about all your players,” Thibodeau said. “You want to continue to improve. You want to learn. You don’t want to repeat the same mistakes over and over. I don’t want frustration to get in the way.
“You’re human. There’s going to be emotions involved in it. But we have to make sure we’re controlling our emotions.”
Speaking of emotions, the storyline entering the game — other than its playoff implications — was Young’s first game at the Garden since he dominated the Knicks in last year’s playoffs, and relished rubbing it in.
Asked whether the extra juice in the building might help his team, Thibodeau said, “We have great fans. We’ve got to make sure that we’re doing the right things to win the game so we don’t get wrapped up in emotions and stuff like that.
“Play well. Do the things that we need to do in order to win, and that’s where I want the focus to lie. We know they’re a very talented team. So all the hoopla, that’s what makes it special playing here.
“I think most players in this league love coming here to play. It’s the best arena in the league, in the world. And the fans are terrific. So you’re going to get their best effort. We’ve got to make sure we’re giving our best effort.”
Hawks coach Nate McMillan said before the game he expected Young to have a grand time with the experience after missing the team’s first trip to Manhattan this season on Christmas Day because of COVID-19 protocols.
“Trey, I think he lives for these moments,” McMillan said. “This type of challenge, I think, in his career he’s faced this a number of times — probably not as big as playing in Madison Square Garden. But he’ll be fine.
“I think he looks forward to the challenge, to the opportunity, to moments like this. He’s a kid that has a lot of confidence in himself and in his team. He’ll be fine.”
The five Julius Randle-related fines during the 2021-22 season:
• $15,000: Kicking ball in stands
• $25,000: Cursing in postgame news conference.
• $25,000 (Knicks): Not talking to media.
• $50,000: Altercation with Suns' Cam Johnson.
• $40,000: "Hostile" language directed toward an official.