It’s not a coincidence. It’s directly connected.
When Julius Randle plays well, so often do the Knicks. When he’s moving the ball and making quick decisions, asserting his will and getting to the rim, it usually impacts the rest of his team.
“When he gets aggressive, he’s attacking, we’re attacking,” coach Tom Thibodeau said.
That was certainly the case on Christmas Day. With Randle producing one of his best games of the season, pouring in 25 points on just 15 field-goal attempts, grabbing 12 rebounds and adding three assists, the Knicks enjoyed a rare stress-free victory, a 101-87 win at the sold-out Garden. They took advantage of the gift they were given, an undermanned Hawks team that hardly resembled the unit that eliminated them from the playoffs last June.
“The way Julius played was terrific,” Thibodeau said. “I thought the aggressiveness to start the game for him made us aggressive and when he is attacking the rim and playing like that, it is a big plus for us.”
Atlanta didn’t have Garden nemesis Trae Young, or Kevin Huerter, Lou Williams and Danilo Gallinari either, due to COVID-19, and the Knicks coasted to an easy victory. Randle set the tone. He hit a pair of early 3-pointers, as Thibodeau’s team raced out to a 19-3 lead. His two third-quarter 3-pointers on consecutive possessions, part of a 16-4 run, ended any doubt about the final result.
“Just the joy and happiness that I played with, I wasn’t bogged down by the game or whatever is going on out there,” Randle said. “Just having fun playing the game and playing with the passion and love that I have for the game. I felt like I got that back today.”
Afterwards, Randle admitted the year was wearing on him, in particular the losing. The Knicks (15-18) entered Saturday having dropped six of their last seven games at the Garden, and nine of 12 overall. Randle hadn’t been the same player he was a year ago, when he led the Knicks to a surprising fourth-place finish in the Eastern Conference. But he looked more like that player against the Hawks, and the Knicks resembled the team that lapped low expectations a season ago.
“Everybody in the locker room’s heart is in the right place, intentions are in the right place. When it’s kind of not working, or things are inconsistent, it wears on you,” Randle said. “But we just have to continuously find that joy and spirit out there.”