Tom Thibodeau Sounds off on Julius Randle After Obi Toppin Closes out Game 4

Obi Toppin, Knicks

Getty Obi Toppin #1 of the New York Knicks celebrates his three point shot.

New York Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau benched a struggling Julius Randle in favor of Obi Toppin in the fourth quarter.

Thibodeau’s gamble paid off.

The Knicks moved one win away from advancing to the second round of the NBA Eastern Conference playoffs after fending off the Cleveland Cavaliers 102-93 on Sunday before another raucous, sold-out Madison Square Garden crowd.

“Julius is our horse,” Thibodeau told reporters after pulling out the win despite Randle’s shooting woes. “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.”

Since returning from a left ankle injury, Randle hasn’t shot the ball well. Over the first four games of the series, Randle is shooting a woeful 32.3% from the field and 25.8% from the 3-point territory—a far cry from his 45.9% and 34.3% shooting percentages in the regular season.

He had his worst game of the series on both ends of the floor in Game 4.

Randle was limited to his fewest points this season when playing more than 20 minutes. He had seven on 3-of-10 shooting. His shooting struggles seemingly affected his play on the defensive end, as he missed several defensive rotations.

“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

Toppin responded with five rebounds and two points in the pivotal fourth quarter. The third-year forward finished the game with five points and eight rebounds. He was a plus-11 in a playoff career-high 20 minutes.

“Obi was was terrific,” Thibodeau told reporters after the game. “It gave us energy, but he also gave us rebounding.”

Toppin had five of the Knicks’ 17 offensive rebounds, which they translated to 21 second-chance points. They were plus-10 in offensive rebounding and plus-9 in the second-chance points.

Knicks’ Closing Lineup

Thibodeau pulled the plug on Randle in the fourth quarter when the Knicks made a run without their two-time All-Star to regain control of the game that nearly slipped in the third quarter.

“We were searching, and we knew this game was going to be a challenge, just because of the quick turnaround,” Thibodeau told reporters, explaining his decision to ride out with Toppin in the fourth quarter.

Toppin was part of the lineup that built a 98-87 lead with 1:22 left from a 75-75 deadlock. Toppin, Jalen Brunson and RJ Barrett were the constants, with Immanuel Quickley, Josh Hart, Isaiah Hartenstein and Mitchell Robinson going in and out during that pivotal stretch.

“That group got going,” Thibodeau said. “And so, at some point, you’re making your decision, probably around the five-minute, six-minute mark. And we rode that out. And so those guys built the lead, and, obviously, you’re going to do whatever you think gives your team the best chance to win. That’s what you’re gonna do. And that being said, you’ve got a number of guys that are sacrificing and putting the team first. I think that’s critical.”

Thibodeau was referring to Randle, who was never made available to the media after the game.


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