Julius Randle falls apart as Knicks lose to Jaz

On a night the Knicks needed Julius Randle to be a Garden star against the mighty Jazz, he laid an egg while Donovan Mitchell shined.

The Knicks blew a big opportunity to make March more interesting with a 108-93 loss Sunday to the Jazz as Randle stunk out the Garden and heard well-deserved late boos.

Randle finished 6 of 21 from the field (1 of 6 from 3) for 13 points and, in the final seconds, got into a skirmish with Rudy Gobert, lightly pushing him while the Jazz center tried to calm the disgruntled Knick down.

No wonder Randle was frustrated, as he got his shot blocked seemingly all night by Gobert and Hassan Whiteside.

Afterward, Randle was barely coherent in discussing the incident and claimed he wasn’t angry at the Jazz superstar. Players from both sides intervened in the ugly ending to an ugly fourth quarter.

“I really don’t know — I was having a conversation with the official at first. When I walked away, they thought there was some confrontation with me and him from the play before,” Randle said. “But it wasn’t. It’s fine. Not a big deal.”

Julius Randle shot just 6 of 21 against the Jazz.
Robert Sabo

Asked if he was mad at Gobert, Randle said, “Nah. Not at all. Honestly. I was confused to be honest. When I walked away, I was confused.

It was a confusing performance by Randle. Down the stretch when the Knicks got within reach, Randle blew an easy layup at 95-89, then lost the ball dribbling in traffic with 3:40 left after which he heard it from the crowd.

In turn, Mitchell, the Westchester product and Leon Rose’s former client at CAA, pounded the Knicks with 36 points, making 7 of 12 3-pointers and throwing down a vicious lefty jam with 5:50 left and the Knicks rallying.

“Anybody is psyched to play at home,” RJ Barrett said. “But we can’t let him do that. I have to do a better job guarding him, especially when he’s a guy’s homecoming. We can’t let him do something like that.

Jazz
Donovan Mitchell finished with a game-high 36 points.
NBAE via Getty Images

Mitchell is a person of interest among the Knicks’ brass despite his long-term Jazz contract. Mitchell looked eager to put on a show.

“It’s always a blessing to play here in front of my friends and family — people who have seen me play since I was 3, literally like watch me shoot on mini hoops,” Mitchell said. “And to be able to go out there and play well and go out and get a win as a group, it’s fun.”

In one of the night’s lowlights, Mitchell deked Randle along the baseline and soared in for a monstrous two-handed dunk. Randle was also caught jogging back on defense during a Utah fast-break bucket.

When Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau was asked about Randle’s subpar evening, he answered in general, saying “I thought we fought, but it felt like we were a step behind most of the night.”

At least Randle realized that much.

“Yeah. I’m not sure,” Randle said. “Wear and tear of the season from game-to-game. I’m not really sure. Usually we’re high-energy team. For some reason we weren’t today.

There was golden opportunity with the Hawks already losing and the Knicks getting a chance to pull within four games of the play-in slot.

To boot, the Knicks host the Hawks on Tuesday. But that game now will simply be an exercise in survival instead of a legitimate opportunity to scare the Hawks, who lead them by five games with 11 to play.

Julius Randle
Julius Randle
Getty Images

“We lost this one, but we actually get to go up against Atlanta next game, so try to get it back then,” Barrett said.

Barrett also had a terrible second-half when he scored just nine of his 24 points. During a third quarter Jazz surge, Barrett saw his driving layup beaten away by Whiteside.

Evan Fournier got off to a scorching start, hitting four of his first five baskets — including three from 3-point land. He had 11 points in the first eight minutes, and the Knicks led, 29-20, late in the first quarter. Fournier finished with 17 points but fouled out with 2:15 left.

“We’ve been rebounding well but I thought we didn’t rebound the ball well tonight,” Thibodeau said. “A lot of balls, 50-50 balls, we didn’t get to. We knew they were going to shoot a lot of 3s. So covering the elbows is important. They beat us to those.”

The Jazz got hot in the second period with 2021 Sixth Man of the Year Award winner Jordan Clarkson doing his thing. With an array of floaters and midrange jumpers, Clarkson hung 18 points on the Knicks in his first 14 minutes of action.

The Jazz were playing without starting point guard Mike Conley (maintenance) and Bojan Bogdanovic (calf) and the Knicks were without enough heart in the final six minutes.

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