NBA exec on how important Julius Randle's Game 2 turnaround was for Knicks

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Julius Randle fights for ball with Danillo Gallinari
Julius Randle fights for ball with Danillo Gallinari

For the first six quarters of the playoffs, Julius Randle didn’t look like himself.

He was shaky in the Knicks’ Game 1 loss to Atlanta. In the first half of Game 2, he missed all six of his shot attempts and Atlanta outscored New York by 17 with Randle on the court.

It seemed at the time like Randle was on his way to another subpar playoff game and the Knicks were going to fall behind 0-2 in the best-of-seven series.

In the Knicks locker room, the message was concise and to the point.

“We know everything we’ve been through this season. We’ve been here before,” Randle said. “It was up to us to change it.”

And they did. The change started with Randle, who knocked down a three-pointer to start the third quarter and got going on both ends of the floor.

He had 11 points in the quarter on 4-for-5 shooting and the Knicks worked their way back from a 13-point halftime deficit.

Randle played the whole quarter, helping the Knicks limit Atlanta to just 27 percent shooting in the frame.

“He didn’t look comfortable at all (in Game 1), but he seemed to find a little bit of rhythm there in the third,” one Western Conference exec watching the game said. “That’s what (the Knicks) need.”

Tom Thibodeau saw the same thing from his star in the third quarter.

“I thought as the game went on he stated to see things better. And as is the case with Julius, each game he’ll get better. He’s seen all these defenses before,” Thibodeau said. “Just be patient, keep moving, make the right plays, make the right reads, create good offense for us. he’s commanding a lot of attention which is opening up a other things for us.”

The Hawks seemed to be sending Clint Capela over to Randle when he got the ball. It’s not a hard double team, but it certainly seemed to throw Randle’s rhythm off initially.

Randle seemed to settle in against the Atlanta defense in the third quarter. He found his teammates for several open looks on the perimeter after drawing an extra defender.

“Just tried to make adjustments, tried to get in the paint, either to create shots for myself or others,” Randle said afterward. “…. Starting to figure it out a little bit but I still have to be a lot better.”

On one possession, Randle finished a tough layup over Capela. On another, he found Derrick Rose for an open three-point attempt.

It looked a lot like the Randle who won the NBA’s Most Improved Player award.

It looked like the Randle who put himself on the short list of players to average at least 24 points, 10 rebounds and six assists in a season. The other players to accomplish this? Larry Bird, Wilt Chamberlain, Nikola Jokić (who also did it this season), Oscar Robertson and Russell Westbrook.

It’s logical to assume that the Knicks will need that version of Randle at some point this weekend in Atlanta if they want to win the series. It’s hard to ask Rose and Alec Burks to carry you on offense throughout a seven-game series.

“They don’t have enough if Randle isn’t giving them anything,” the executive said. “You can only get so much out of (Randle’s teammates).”