Julius Randle aced his audition for a spot on the Eastern Conference All-Stars as the New York Knicks pulled away late to defeat Atlanta 123-112 Monday night at Madison Square Garden. RJ Barrett nailed two clutch three-pointers down the stretch as the Knicks (14-15) won their third consecutive game. It was the fourth loss in a row for the Hawks (11-16).
Randle posted his highest scoring output as a Knick with 44 points. He connected on a career high seven three-pointers. Randle came out of the gate on fire as he tallied 17 points in the first quarter. He went 7-of-8 from the field in the stanza including 3-for-4 from behind the arc.
Randle drew the ire of Knicks fans last year as his eratic play had them clamoring for him to be traded. However, this year he came came into the season in the best shape of his career. The second-year Knick is determined to make ammends.
“I kind of felt I let the team down last year,’’ Randle said. “I didn’t have my best performance. A lot of people wrote me off. And it was motivation and fuel. My game is at a level [now] that it hasn’t been at before.’’
Now Randle is not only more enduring to the Knicks fans that wanted him gone, but to his teammates and new coach as well.
“The most important thing is the impact that he’s having on winning and hopefully it’ll be recognized,’’ coach Tom Thibodeau said. “But I know there’s great appreciation by his teammates and his coaches, the organization, certainly our fans, for what he’s bringing to our team.
New York appeared to take command early as they raced out to a 14-point first quarter lead. The Knicks led 39-28 after a quarter. A lopsided advantage from the foul line kept the Hawks close in the second. Atlanta still trailed the Knicks 66-63 at the break.
Things looked like they may go south for the Knicks in the second half. Atlanta opened the third quarter on a 9-0 run to lead 72-66. Consequently, the Knicks recovered to outscore the Hawks 29-27 in the frame to lead by five heading to the fourth.
The game remained tight heading into the final minutes. With the Knicks clinging to a 109-107 lead with 3:07 to go, Randle buried a deep trey from straight on. After a defensive stop Barrett connected on a three-pointer from the left wing to make it 112-107. New York closed it out from there.
Nerlens Noel also play an integral part in the third quarter. Filling the very large shoes of the injured Mitchell Robinson, Noel turned the fortunes of the Knicks around when the game looked like it might slip away. During a span of three straight trips down the floor Noel blocked a shot, altered another, and deflected a pass to raise the Knicks out a slumber. He also put exclamation point on the victory with an authoritative slam off a Barrett miss in the waning seconds.
Finally, the backcourt of Immanuel Quickley and Derrick Rose were instrumental as well. The pair outplayed Hawk’s guard Trae Young when it counted. Quickley scored on two three-pointers in the fourth. Meanwhile, Rose orchestrated the action, getting the ball to the right player at the right time.
Randle added nine boards and five assists to go along with his incredible offensive barrage.
“He is reading the game,’’ Thibodeau said. “He took 13 3s tonight and I thought they were the right reads. When he got going, people were looking for him. And then when he puts it on the floor and they collapse, he makes good rim reads which was also getting us more high-percentage threes. It’s his all-around play. And oftentimes what gets overlooked is how unselfish he is. When he’s spraying the ball around, we’re more hard to guard. We scored 121 tonight. When a guy gets going like that, you have to commit more than one defender and that should open up more things for other people.’’
Barrett had his best performance in a couple of weeks, finishing with 21 points. Quickley chipped in 16 and Elfrid Payton 12.
Young paced the Hawks with 23 points. John Collins added 19. Former Knick Danilo Gallinari and Cam Reddish had 16 points each. Clint Capela (15) and Skylar Mays (11) also reached double-digits. Capela also hauled in 18 rebounds.
New York will gun for their first four-game win streak of the season when they visit Orlando Wednesday night.
(AP Photo/Jason DeCrow, Pool)