As Julius Randle has struggled through the early part of his Knicks career after signing as the most expensive piece in a seven-man free agent summer, coach David Fizdale has run the video on Randle’s successes in his previous stops in New Orleans and Los Angeles.
“Ad nauseam,” Fizdale said before Monday night's game. “Even back to some of the Lakers stuff that he ran. I dug deep to a lot of his stuff, and I think a lot of it is just getting comfortable with his teammates. Taking pressure off himself to will the Knicks being this team. And once he settles in and starts to relax and play I think we’re going to see more good games from him.”
Maybe it all began to kick in Monday night. From the opening tip Randle looked like a different player, scoring 23 of his season-high 30 points in the first half to help the Knicks to a much-needed 123-105 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers at Madison Square Garden.
The win avenged a one-sided loss eight days earlier to the Cavs at the Garden, a game that was more notable for what happened afterward with Knicks executives addressing the media to express their dissatisfaction with how the team was playing and putting Fizdale on alert in the process. This victory marked the first time this season that the Knicks (4-10) won by double digits, easing the tension.
Off the opening tip Randle took the ball near the elbow and rather than try to plow his way to the rim as he has so many times this season, turning it over at an alarming rate, this time he found Frank Ntilikina cutting to the rim for an easy layup. It took 4:02 into the game for him to score his first points of the night, but before the first quarter was over he had piled up 15 points, hitting 7 of 9 from the floor.
Randle was up to 23 points by halftime, only two off his previous season high of 25 that he had on opening night. He kept pouring it on and so did the Knicks, who got 23 points from Marcus Morris Sr. Randle reached 30 points for the 14th time in career and first time for the Knicks, who led by 27 points in the fourth quarter.
Randle credited his big night a little bit to the video work and also to encouragement from his agent, Aaron Mintz, getting him through some rough patches.
“I talk to him every day,” Randle said. “He talks me off a ledge every day. I joke with him, it’s like my sane side, him and my wife, because I’m ready to blow up and they kind of talk me back to reality. He gives me a day just to chill out and then he talks me back to reality.
“I’m always confident. My confidence comes from my work. It’s frustrating. You get frustrated sometimes when you don’t get the results you want. I’m very impatient. And that’s something. Basketball requires patience and I’ve learned better over the course of my career. But I’m impatient. And it’s frustration sometimes. But games like tonight show the potential or whatever. But I’m on to the next one. I’m excited to get to Philly and get a road win.”
On this night Randle corrected all of the flaws in his game during his first month as a Knick. He entered the night shooting just 20 percent (9-for-45) from three-point range. But in the first quarter he hit both of his attempts beyond the arc and on the night connected on 3 of 5 shots. He had four assists and only one turnover — his second straight game with one after having six two games earlier.
“[It’s been] more frustration with himself,” Fizdale said. “He sees what’s happening. He sees three people are loading up to him, and he kept burning his hand on the stove and not learning his lesson. Now I think, you burn it enough, you’re like, ‘OK, I’ve got to make this change.’ He’s letting it come to him while staying aggressive and making easier basketball plays. There was one play tonight he could’ve went against a guy at the elbow, he had a size advantage and RJ [Barrett] was open in the slot, and just without hesitation, he just shot it to him and RJ got the three. Just little stuff like that, as he continues to do that, it’s going to help his evolution.”