Jalen Brunson, who continues to flourish in the playoffs, came to Randle’s defense after they pulled out a 102-93 win to take a commanding 3-1 series lead against the Cleveland Cavaliers despite their All-Star shooting only 30% from the floor.
“Julius] has been a leader since the day I came here,” Brunson told reporters after the game. “What he’s able to do while he’s either on or off the floor has been incredible. He’s been special. All he wants to do is win, and when he has that mindset, it’s just very contagious. So he’s been a leader, and we always got his back. He wants nothing else but to win.”
At the midway point of the third quarter, a struggling Randle walked away from the team huddle during a timeout, according to New York Daily News’s Knicks beat reporter Stefan Bondy. Brunson tried to get Randle on the same page. In the next play coming off that timeout, Brunson assisted Randle for a strong drive from the right baseline.
Randle was held to seven points, the fewest he’s scored this season when playing above 20 minutes. His season-low was three points when he suffered the left ankle injury against the Miami Heat on March 29. He hasn’t shot well since coming back from that injury. But to his credit, he grabbed the offensive rebound that sealed their Game 1 victory on the road.
In the series’ first four games, Randle only shot 32.3% from the field and 25.8% from deep. His playoff numbers of 14.8 points, 7.0 rebounds and 2.3 assists are well below his regular-season averages of 25.1 points, 10.0 rebounds and 4.1 assists.
Randle was not made available to talk to reporters after the game.
Tom Thibodeau Defends Julius Randle
Despite benching Randle in the fourth quarter, New York coach Tom Thibodeau defended his two-time All-Star.
“Julius is our horse,” Thibodeau told reporters. “He’s given us everything that he has. A lot of guys wouldn’t probably even play. So I knew that with a quick turnaround, it probably impacted him more than most players. He was out for an extended amount of time.”
“So, we got multiple days here before the next game,” Thibodeau added. “He’ll get a chance to get some recovery time, but I think that’s a big part of it. The thing I love about him is he gives you everything he has. So he’s done that to come back the way he did, to be ready for game one—credit to him. And we need him. He’s our horse. We know that.”
Obi Toppin Steps up
Obi Toppin played a playoff career-high 20 minutes and pulled down eight rebounds, five on the offensive glass. He added five points and one assist.
“I just felt like I was a lot more physical [Sunday] on the glass, so basically, I knew what I had to do coming into the game to get the win,” Toppin told reporters.
Toppin had five rebounds in the fourth quarter and was part of the group that led the Knicks’ breakaway from a 75-75 deadlock.