It’s difficult to comprehend the fact that a year ago many Knick fans were calling for the team to trade Julius Randle. The forward’s erratic play was frustrating to say the least. Thursday night after penning a a story for The Players’ Tribune titled “Reputation” explaining why he struggled last year and professing that he wanted to be a Knick for life, Randle went out proved it once again on the Madison Square Garden floor.
Randle scored 27 points and hauled in 16 rebounds as the Knicks pulled away to defeat Detroit 114-104. The Knicks (19-18) haven’t owned a winning record this late in a season since the 54-win, 2012-13 campaign. They have won 8 of their last 11 and end the first half of the schedule just percentage points out of fourth place in the Eastern Conference.
“And that’s what’s been special about this year. I’ve gotten to flip the script on my own reputation as a player, while I’ve also gotten to help with this larger thing we have going — where we’re flipping the script on the reputation of our entire franchise,” Randle wrote in the article. “Mostly, though, I just wanted to write this to say thank you to everyone who’s been supporting us during a tough time…. and over a strange couple of seasons. We’re building something here, and I’m glad to be a part of it.I’m grateful for the chance to make a second first impression. I’m damn proud to be a Knick.”
Randle is the first player in Knicks history with 800 points, 400 rebounds and 200 assists at the All-Star break.
The game was a crucial one for Tom Thibodeau’s club. A victory would send the Knicks to the all-star recess with an above .500 record, almost unheard of for the team in recent years. With a challenging March schedule a positive contest heading into the break could be a momentum builder. Randle was the catalyst once again.
“I’ve said this many times, he’s the engine of this team,” coach Tom Thibodeau said of his star big man.
New York got off to a good start in the opening quarter, but Detroit (10-26) managed to stay close. The Knicks were 13 for 19 from the field for a scorching 68%. Randle began warming up for his first NBA All-Star apearance by scoring 10 points in the stanza. A 3-pointer by Frank Ntilikina and a layup from Obi Toppin gave New York an eight point lead at 33-25 before the Piston closed out the quarter with a bucket.
Ntilikina, who has seen his minutes increase as of late was a catalyst for the Knicks to start the second. He connected on a trey to make it 36-27, and then was fouled while connecting another attempt from downtown. Detroit challenged the foul call denying the opportunity for a 4-point play. None the less New York had a 39-30 advantage.
The Knicks could not shake free from the Pistons who stayed close, mostly due to the play of Isaiah Stewart who scored 10 in the half. The Pistons were within 48-44 when New York stepped up their defensive effort. As a result Detroit’s shooting was frigid the rest of the period as the Knicks ripped off an 11-0. The highlight of the onslaught was an emphatic two-hand slam by RJ Barrett. New York’s biggest lead of the half came at 59-44 before a Piston’s hoop made it 59-44 at the break.
Again in the third Detroit refused to go away. The Knicks built a 16 point lead early on, but a 3-pointer by Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk trimmed the Piston deficit to nine. New York responded with their own run to extend the margin to 77-61. A 3-pointer from Alec Burks gave the Knicks their biggest lead at 87-67. New York led 93-74 after three quarters.
Detroit again proved to be pesky as they scored the first five point of the fourth. Apair of Mason Plumlee foul shots brought the Pistons and a trey by Dennis Smith Jr. brought them within 98-87 and a Wayne Ellington 3-pointer whittled it to 10 with 5:28 remaining. Saddiq Bey did his best to give the Pistons a chance with a pair of tradtional three-point plays, one of which brought his team within seven. However, New York did enough down the stretch to hold on for the win.
Randle was one of three Knicks who scored more than 20 points on the night. Barrett contributed 21 points and Elfrid Payton 20 after returning from an injury. Nelens Noel and Reggie Bullock chipped in 12 point apiece.
“We’re growing as a team, growing as a unit,’’ Randle said. “We got to go into the break and stay ready because the second half will be a beast. First half was great for us but we know we can keep improving and get better as a team and we will.’’
For Detroit, Wayne Ellington led a balanced attack with 17 points. Rodney McGruder added 13, with Plumlee and Smith Jr. scoring 12 each.
Next, the Knicks head into and extended break until March 11 before returning with games against Milwaukee, Oklahhoma City and Brooklyn.
(Wendell Cruz/Pool Photo via AP)