GREENBURGH, N.Y. — Julius Randle sat down to discuss a topic he wanted little to do with — the continuing odd turn his relationship with the Madison Square Garden faithful has taken. And maybe to his credit, he tried to put it behind him, answering every question on the topic with a scripted, "I already addressed that."
The problem for Randle is that the Knicks fans, as evidenced by the ugly chants and catcalls Monday, might not be done addressing their side of it.
Randle lit a fuse to things Thursday when he gave a thumbs-down signal to the fans and explained afterward that his message was, "Shut the [expletive] up." He might have been right in that, too, since he earned some understanding from the fan base with his play last season when he earned second-team All-NBA honors and carried the franchise to a level it hadn’t reached in eight seasons. And his anger wasn’t just about booing at the Garden, but there were low blows, a segment of social media celebrating his entry into the NBA’s health and safety protocols two weeks ago.
He returned to the Garden Monday and while the Knicks appeased the crowd with a convincing victory over the San Antonio Spurs, he had just two points, his lowest output in his three seasons in New York, turned the ball over three times and looked very much like the crowd was getting to him.
"I think on a normal day it would affect anybody," Taj Gibson said. "Going to a popular stadium, Madison Square Garden, one of the best places to play, one of the number one fan bases in the world, you're going to have pressure. That's why he chose to come here when a lot of people didn't really want to take it. But he's here, you know I'm saying?
"But it comes with the game. You can ask Patrick Ewing, you know what I'm saying? A lot of guys dealt with it. It's part of New York. You play good, they're going to love you. You play bad, you're going to hear about it. But it's just a chip on your shoulder, and you just got to move on. Not many people can play here. You just got to be tough about it. But like I said before, we got a great group of young guys, great group of guys on this team that just love playing hard for this team, so we've just got to look forward to just moving forward."
Randle’s numbers will certainly rise from what he put up Monday and when the Knicks take the court Wednesday night against the Dallas Mavericks. He will be spared the comparison to the last player who wore the uniform to really draw the ire of the fans, Kristaps Porzingis, since the former Knicks lottery pick will be sidelined while in health and safety protocols. Wins, performance and most of all, hustle, will endear him again, and the Knicks believe that will all come.
Randle said of the struggles Monday, "I’m happy we got the win yesterday."
"He comes in here every day," Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said. "You’re going to get great effort from Julius. He comes in. We know that our team — winning is the most important thing to everyone, that’s what everyone is focused on. So come in every day put everything you have into it. He’s been the same. I’ve seen him when everything is going his way, I’ve seen him when things aren’t going his way. He’s going to be the same guy. Put the work in and be ready to go."