Knicks' Julius Randle shines against Boston Celtics as he vies for All-Star nod
BOSTON — Julius Randle was surrounded by media in the postgame locker room at TD Garden late Thursday night, and there was a lot to talk about — most notably his 37-point performance and the Knicks’ surprising overtime win over the NBA-leading Boston Celtics. Then Obi Toppin wandered through the locker room.
“Great game, Julius Randle!” Toppin shouted. Then he yelled for the reporters to ask Randle about his dunking ability, exclaiming, “He’s a dunker, a straight dunker!”
Randle laughed, shook his head and quietly said: “Why can’t I just have mature teammates, man? My kids are more mature than him.”
The 28-year-old Randle is the old man of the Knicks’ rotation these days, but he is playing like a youngster with few miles on his body — and also like an All-Star. He put this performance on display on national television shortly after the All-Star starters were announced. He was left out of that mix but is mounting a strong case for a reserve role for the second time in three seasons.
As Randle shared the court with MVP candidate Jayson Tatum and likely All-Star Jaylen Brown, there were long stretches when he seemed to be the best player on the floor, hitting five three-pointers and notably, as Toppin said, soaring to the rim for athletic and emphatic dunks over Celtics defenders.
“I like the force that he’s playing with,” coach Tom Thibodeau said. “He’s doing it different ways and he’s hard to guard when he does that. He’s doing it moving without the ball. He’s doing it in the post, he’s doing it off the dribble, he’s doing it in transition with the three. He’s playing off people really well. And he’s creating rhythm for everybody. That’s a big plus.”
Randle will get another opportunity to play before a national audience Saturday when the Knicks take on the Nets in Brooklyn. In what seemed like a three-game ordeal on the schedule, the Knicks already have picked up wins over Cleveland and Boston.
Randle certainly has made a case for earning a reserve spot on the Eastern Conference squad, averaging a team-best 24.8 points and 10.9 rebounds — both are career highs — while playing in all 50 games. In the last 19 games, he is averaging 29.0 points, 13.5 rebounds and 4.5 assists.
Though Toppin and the highlight reels may focus on the dunks, an indication of the shape Randle is in this season, he ranks among the league leaders in three-point attempts and is converting 34.6%, far above his 30.8% last season.
Before the game on the TNT studio show, Shaquille O’Neal called him “Randolph,” and when he was corrected, he said, “Whatever his name is.”
When it was over, Randle’s mother posted on social media, “Bet they know his correct name now!!! MR. RANDLE! Write it down take a picture of it to remember. Put some respect on my son’s name.”
When the crew made their All-Star resrve selections, all of them gave their vote to Randle — O’Neal included.