Late in the first half Wednesday night, Julius Randle took Maxi Kleber to the rim and scored, drawing a foul on the play. He then wandered to the baseline and slapped his young son's palm to celebrate. About a minute later, a lone MVP chant was voiced from the upper decks.
It’s a start.
After a weird week of acrimonious tension between Randle and the home fans at Madison Square Garden, a detente was reached as the fans halted the booing and taunts directed at the team’s leader and Randle seemed to lift his mood from the dark place it had been.
Randle has insisted that all he worries about is winning, and on this night the Knicks got the win, beating Dallas, 108-85. And Randle got back in the Garden’s good graces with his play, a balanced 17-point, 12-rebound, eight-assist performance.
The chants of MVP that he got last season and earlier this season were audible again, but they were for RJ Barrett, who led the Knicks with 32 points. And this time, as Randle ran the clock down with just over a minute left and as an "RJ Barrett!'' chant broke out, Randle found Barrett in the corner for a three-pointer that set off another celebration and finally emptied the bench.
"He was great," coach Tom Thibodeau said of Randle. "He was great, just attacking the rim, putting a lot of pressure on the rim, making the right reads, not fighting pressure, forcing the defense to collapse. making great effort plays.
"I thought RJ had a monster game, Mitchell had a monster game. I thought our starters were fantastic. That may be the best game of the year for our starters."
Mitchell Robinson added a season-high 19 points along with 10 rebounds, shooting 9-for-10 from the field.
The Mavs were without Kristaps Porzingis and coach Jason Kidd, who remained in the NBA’s health and safety protocols. But the Knicks will take it as they moved back to .500 at 21-21, with seven wins in their last 10 games.
If Randle settled the feud that had been simmering since he responded to criticism and catcalls with a thumbs-down gesture and an explanation that his message for the fans was to "shut the [expletive] up'' with his play and demeanor on the court, that was good, because he showed little indication of playing nice off it.
When he spoke to the media after practice on Wednesday a day after again hearing the insults of the crowd while scoring just two points, he answered every inquiry about the situation with a downcast "I already addressed that."
When asked directly about his Instagram post apology, he said it was that he "just felt like I needed to address certain stuff that was said, whatever it was."
"I had a feeling he was going to come out aggressive and he played such a great game on both ends," Barrett said. "Didn’t he almost get a triple-double or something? How many assists he have? Eight assists? Yeah, he almost had a triple-double. So you have him doing that and Mitch doing what he was doing and Alec [Burks] had a ton of assists, especially in the first half. We all played well together, so it was a lot of fun."
"He was aggressive," Evan Fournier said of Randle. "There's not much else to say. He was aggressive, he was looking at the rim, and that changes everything. He's such a big body. Once he gets downhill to the paint, he draws attention, he draws contact, he's going to get to the free-throw line. It was actually great to see him like that."
Notes & quotes: The Knicks had four starters reach double figures in the first half, and Robinson joined them less than three minutes into the third quarter . . . Barrett is averaging 24.6 points per game in the last seven games. With 31 and 32 points in his last two games, the 21-year-old became the youngest player in franchise history with consecutive 30-point games, according to the Knicks. He shot 9-for-11 and scored 21 points after halftime . . . Robinson has shot 25-for-28 in the last five games . . . Luka Doncic had 21 points, 11 rebounds and five assists for the Mavericks but shot 8-for-23 overall and 1-for-9 from three-point range..