DALLAS — Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle knew what his club might be in for with Julius Randle back in his hometown of Big D. “He’s an All-Star who loves coming back to play here,’’ Carlisle
DALLAS — Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle knew what his club might be in for with Julius Randle back in his hometown of Big D.
“He’s an All-Star who loves coming back to play here,’’ Carlisle said before the game.
And how. Friday was Randle’s best game yet — and one of the Knicks’ most impressive victories this season.
It has been an eventful week of homecoming games for Randle, and he capped it with a spectacular 44-point outing that paced the streaking Knicks to a terrific 117-109 victory over the Mavericks before a pandemic crowd of 4,000 fans at American Airlines Center.
The Knicks won their season-high fifth straight game to go a season-high three games over .500 at 30-27, and Randle missed tying his career high by one point. The Knicks, who are 3-1 against their former star, Kristaps Porzingis, the past two seasons, hadn’t won five straight in seven years.
“Actually I was kind of tired a little before but I took some smoothie drinks, got some energy,’’ Randle said. “I was locked in, focused. I always love playing at home before friends and family. It’s always special for me.’’
If the Knicks hadn’t traded Porzingis, who shot 8-for-20 for 23 points, they likely would never have signed Randle. But a gaggle of blue-clad Knicks fans hung around after the final buzzer and were cheering and yelling encouragement toward Porzingis, who went over to the sideline to wave, smile and point.
But Randle has made many other Knicks fans forget about the Latvian, who was outclassed by Randle. Knicks fans in the crowd chanted “MVP’’ as the Dallas native shot free throws in the final seconds.
“The way he’s making plays he’s rarely single covered,’’ coach Tom Thibodeau said. “He’s making the right, winning plays. He’s our engine. He makes us go.’’
RJ Barrett added 24 points with a clutch fourth quarter. Knicks center Nerlens Noel, playing on a sore ankle, was gritty, with 10 rebounds and three blocks. He also roughed up Porzingis and hit two crucial free throws with 2:10 left.
Thibodeau raved about Noel’s block at the rim on Dorian Finney-Smith that had the bench stomping in glee in the fourth quarter.
“The blocked shot, a lot plays in the course of a game are winning plays that ignite and inspire the team,” Thibodeau said. “When you see a player like that, it gets your people fired up.”
Already this week, Randle had gained revenge on his first NBA team, the Lakers, in scoring 34 points, and had keyed a win against his second team, the Pelicans, with 32 points. Randle will face the Pelicans again Sunday.
“The way they made the schedule, you knew he was going to do this,’’ Barrett said of Randle.
But he saved his best for last — looking even sharper and fresher Friday, as if he were playing his season’s first game instead of his season’s 56th contest.
It all started in Dallas during the pandemic 13 months ago when Randle whipped himself into the best shape of his career.
“He prepared himself for this,’’ Thibodeau said. “You can’t overlook that. I know when I saw his first time in the summer the kind of shape he was in. I’ve had that type of player in my career and they always prepare themselves in the offseason so they can handle this workload. They command a lot of attention.’’
Randle shot 16-for-29 — and 6-for-11 from 3-point range. The lefty All-Star freight train scored the Knicks’ first 10 points and started the game 4-for-4, acing his 3-pointers and rambling to the basket.
He racked up 15 points in the first quarter and managed 21 by halftime as the Knicks led 56-52 at intermission. He was 9-for-12 from the field — and 3-for-7 from 3.
Randle had 35 points after three quarters, but when he rested, an early fourth-quarter spree by Barrett was critical.
Frank Ntilikina, spurred into action by the absence of Alec Burks (who is in COVID-19 protocols), also hit a big 3-pointer.
Porzingis picked up a technical foul and was frustrated by Noel’s physical play in the first half. Reggie Bullock also did a number on Luka Doncic, holding him to 22 points, but with a career-high 19 assists.
This was the Knicks’ first game without Burks, who is out indefinitely, and they didn’t skip a beat.
This story originally appeared on: NyPost - Author:Marc Berman