DALLAS — Midway through the fourth quarter, the frustration cleared away as his own play helped the Knicks to hold off any notion of a collapse, Julius Randle wandered across the court during a timeout to speak encouragingly to his 5-year-old son Kyden. The youngster was seated in the front row at the American Airlines Center with Randle’s wife, not far from Randle’s mother.
It was a homecoming for Randle and if it wasn’t the sort of 44-point outburst he had here the last time he took the court in Dallas or the career-high 46 points he put up in his last game Monday, it was more than enough to help the Knicks to a shockingly easy 107-77 win over the Mavericks.
When it was over the public- address announcer started to say, "The final score," and hesitated for a long pause as if he had to double-check it to be certain it was real.
Maybe just as surprising is that the Knicks have won three straight games and moved within 3 1/2 games of a play-in spot in the Eastern Conference in the midst of a seven-game road trip that threatened to put an end to their hopes. The Knicks came in with wins over the Clippers and Kings in the last two games, stabilizing their fortunes after a seven-game losing streak. But Dallas came into the game with a five-game winning streak and 11 wins in its last 13 games.
They did it either with a stifling defense or simply an off night by the Mavs, but however it happened the Mavs were just miserable offensively, shooting 6-for-44 from beyond the arc (13.6%) and 31.4% overall.
Randle burst into the interview room, afterward, imploring Knicks’ coach Tom Thibodeau to get up, anxious to get to his family and a chance to sleep in his own bed at his Dallas home.
"It was probably our best defensive performance of the year," Randle said.
Randle would finish with a team-high 26 points, but early in the game he seemed lost. He was 0-for-5 in the first quarter and 1-for-7 shooting in the first half, which seemed to put him right in line with the Mavericks. The Knicks raced out a 13-2 lead in the opening minutes and it kept growing as they were playing well, but also because the Mavericks could not hit a shot. Credit the defense for some, but the Mavericks were 5-for-23 in the first quarter overall and 0-for-8 from three.
The shooting woes for Dallas continued in the second quarter as they kept bricking, misfiring on their first five shots until Jalen Brunson finally connected on a floater. And from long range the drought didn’t end until they had missed their first 19 attempts. Finally, with 46.9 seconds left in the half, Spencer Dinwiddie (13 points) connected to end the drought. Meanwhile the Knicks offense was clicking as they piled up a 61-34 halftime lead behind 14 points from RJ Barrett.
After the intermission Luka Doncic took over for Dallas, scoring 17 of his 31 points in the quarter. But after Dallas drew as close as 14 points, the Knicks were able to slow him with rookie Miles McBride taking on the assignment of controlling Doncic and Randle getting untracked offensively. The Knicks took an 83-65 advantage into the fourth quarter.
One person not helping the Mavs on this night was one of the players the Knicks were most familiar with — Reggie Bullock. After being a key piece of the Knicks’ success last season, he departed as a free agent for Dallas and has found his place in a similar role as a 3-and-D cog, guarding the opposition’s most dangerous perimeter player and connecting from beyond the arc at a rate close to what he did for New York.
But on this night he was 0-for-8 — all from beyond the arc. He shook his head at one point as one after another appeared to go in and then rattle out.
Was it the Knicks defense that stymied Bullock and all of the Mavericks — or was it the Mavs just misfiring?
"Probably a combination of both," Thibodeau said. "The thing is these guys were rolling. They’re playing great basketball. Sometimes you have nights like that. But I love the way our guys are coming out and the intensity that we’re playing with, and the togetherness on both sides of the ball. So we’re tied together defensively and offensively guys are sharing the ball, making plays for each other. When you do that you can get into a rhythm. So we’ve got to continue to do it."
"A lot of them were wide-open," Mavs coach Jason Kidd said. "That’s basketball. You make some, you miss some. We missed a lot of them tonight, unfortunately."