Donovan Mitchell Notices Big Difference in Knicks Play Without Julius Randle

Jalen Brunson and Julius Randle of the New York Knicks.

Getty Jalen Brunson and Julius Randle of the New York Knicks.

From a battering bruiser to a fast cruiser.

That’s how the New York Knicks transformed overnight in their first game without their All-Star forward Julius Randle, who is out for at least two weeks with a sprained left ankle.

That wasn’t lost on Cleveland Cavaliers star Donovan Mitchell after his 42-point effort fell short amid the dizzying pace of a 130-116 Knicks victory Friday night.

Mitchell pointed out Randle’s absence when asked to explain how they lost the rebounding battle, especially on the offensive glass where the Knicks had a staggering 16-3 advantage.

“I’m not making an excuse here,” Mitchell said. So, [the Knicks] not having Julius Randle changes the pace of their group. You know, obviously, [what] Jalen does. He pushes the pace, but you have a kind of a mismatch with those two—Julius kind of [slow them down].

Now, you have Obi Toppin at the four who’s running in the transition, and you gotta run back. You have [Immanuel] Quickley, who’s pushing the pace, and you got to get back. So you have to prioritize and shift your priorities at that point. You gotta give them credit.”

The Knicks Were Running and Flying

The Knicks played with a dizzying pace and space, which led to their scoring spree. It was only the 10th time this season that they reached 130 points. The Knicks are 13th in scoring, averaging 115.6 points per game.

Their best lineup of the night in terms of net rating was composed of Brunson, Quentin Grimes, RJ Barrett, Toppin and Isaiah Hartenstein. That group played on a 101.2 pace with a 216.7 offensive rating and 114.3 defensive rating for an impressive 102.4 net rating.

“They run. They’re flying,” Mitchell said. “It’s a different case with Julius (Randle). Not to say it’s a bad thing. That’s just how it is. So that was the focus — getting back, and then we still didn’t get back enough. So there are different things, like I said, we can learn from, get better at, but that would be the explanation [of not getting as many offensive rebounds] because we just tried to focus on getting back and transition.”

Even New York coach Tom Thibodeau was impressed with their offense in their first game without Randle, their leading scorer (25.1 points) and rebounder (10.0 rebounds).

“I loved our offense. I thought defensively we weren’t very good but we were taking care of the ball which was a big concern,” Thibodeau said, “and then as the game went on I
thought the rebounding was huge for us. Low turnover was huge and then in the second half, the defense was a lot better and so we know we got to fix that. We got to be better.  We got to play 48 minutes of defense.”
After giving up 72 points in the opening half, the Knicks held the Cavaliers to just 44 in the second half. Their defense was at the sharpest in the fourth quarter where they limited the Cavaliers to only 14 points, two nights after holding the Miami Heat to 16 in the same quarter.

Knicks’ 4th Quarter Blitz

Thibodeau made special mention of his starting lineup in the fourth quarter, which transformed a 107-102 lead into a dozen, 119-107, before Brunson was reinserted back into the game.

“I like the way our bench played to start the fourth,” Thibodeau said. “I thought Deuce (McBride) gave us good minutes. [Quickley] hit some timely shots. Josh (Hart) was a monster the whole game, like the intangibles that he brings to the game are hard to measure statistically but it’s critical.”
That group of McBride, Quickley, Barrett, Hart and Hartenstein played 9.5 minutes together that night was a team-best plus-13.