But that doesn’t help much on Monday morning. On Monday morning, the Knicks face a 1-0 deficit in this first-round playoff series with the Hawks, and the biggest culprit was their best player. This is not how they write it in the fiction section.
In real life, it’s different.
In real life, Randle took 24 shots and he missed 18. In real life, Randle, who was everything for the Knicks, was completely eclipsed by Trae Young of Atlanta, who means everything to the Hawks. This time around in the basketball calendar, that sort of thing matters in a way that can have serious consequences.
These consequences for the Knicks?
After 72 games of grinding, 72 games of blood and sweat, hard work and relentless resilience, after all it took to gain a field advantage in this series, that advantage is now gone. The Hawks won 107-105 despite pleading from the 15047 which once again made the Garden roar, despite efforts by Randle’s teammates to get their star back.
The season doesn’t end because of it.
But he suddenly has a sense of DEFCON-3 attached to him.
“It’s a series, it’s not a one-game elimination,” Derrick Rose warned. “It’s not a play-in game.”
But for the Knicks, there is an immediate sense of urgency. Game 2 will have a little extra now: a must-have nuance, lest they head to Atlanta on Friday in a 0-2 hole. It will help them if they play a better first quarter than on Sunday, when the bright lights and deafening din seemed to have hit them a bit, a touch of stage fright that immediately put them in a 12-point hole.
And it will really help if the Randle they’ve come to know, love, and rely on so strongly reappears.
“I have to understand a little bit,” Randle said. “I will adjust.”
Said Rose: “This is his first time in the playoffs. He will find out.
It’s a testament to the kind of season Randle has had that even in a game that ranks near the low of the 72 he’s played this year, he still produced a double-double (15 points, 12 rebounds). and he always hit, if things broke a little differently, what could have been the biggest hit of the night, a very arched 3 that gave the Knicks a 98-97 lead with just over two minutes to play.
But things didn’t break out any differently. Young took over, scoring seven of his game-high 32 points, including the winning float with 0.9 seconds left. And there was a fatal bad rebound, a loose ball that went from the hands of RJ Barrett to the hands of Bogdan Bogdanovic. If Barrett wins possession, the Knicks have the 3 ball with less than a minute to go.
He did not do it. Somehow the ball settled into Bogdanovic’s fingers, and somehow he was comfortably behind the line. He stroked and splashed it, a killer 3 who tied the game at 103 with 55 seconds left.
In the end, it was a long walk back to the train platforms and parking lots for the hoarse masses. And it will be a long wait Wednesday night for Randle. Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau thought he was too selfless on Sunday night. Randle thought maybe that was the case.
Specifically, he had waited his entire life to participate in an NBA playoff game. When he arrived the spirit was ready, and he fully embraced a fun and restorative evening at the Garden. But his game was lacking. It happens. It just happened at the worst possible time.
“Trust the path,” Thibodeau said.
“I can’t find any excuse, I have to be better,” Randle said. “And I’ll be better. I will stop there.
It is in fact non-negotiable. These Knicks really channel their legendary hit-the-open-man background, they really are much more accomplished than the sum of their parts. They have proven it in 72 games. But it’s Randle who makes this sum hum. A game like this is like the transmission dropping from your car. It must be better.