CLEVELAND — The brutal irony was this: Julius Randle attacked this game straight out of his best-case blueprint.
When Randle is on, really on, he’s going to score in bunches.
He’s going to clear the boards ferociously.
He’s going to set up his teammates with pretty passes.
And he’s going to lean on the other guys’ bigs, all 250 pounds of him.
That version had been absent most of this series so far.
That version was front and center Wednesday night.
Randle played 16 first-half minutes.
He scored 13 points.
He had four rebounds.
He had six assists.
His 3-point shot wasn’t falling but he went hard to the basket, drew three shooting fouls, made five out of six free throws, and did his part in frustrating the Cavaliers’
“He was aggressive,” Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said. “He carried us early.”
And just when things seemed like they couldn’t go any better …
The Knicks were up 13, 59-46, with 1:25 left in the half.
Cleveland’s Caris LeVert tried a 15-footer, missed, but when Randle tried to contest the shot he jumped and landed on LeVert’s foot, his left ankle rolling, the same ankle and the same manner in which he sprained it back on March 29, when he landed on Bam Adebayo’s foot at Madison Square Garden.
That cost him the last five games of the regular season and it took him 17 days to recover.
Randle limped to the locker room and sat out the second half of the Knicks’ series-clinching 106-95 win over the Cavs.
He did come out in street clothes and sat on the bench in the closing two quarters.
“It would be premature for me to comment until obviously he has to be re-examined [Thursday]”, Thibodeau said. “So we’re hopeful that it’s not bad.”
Obi Toppin came in and filled in ably for Randle, but as well as he played at this point in his career he’s not anywhere close to what Randle is at his best, and he was at his best across those 16 first-half minutes.
“He was terrific, in a lot of different ways,” Thibodeau said. “Just the aggressiveness, high energy, attacking the rim, spraying the ball out, I think he had six assists in 16 minutes, but attacking all around. When he plays like that, our offense it just goes to a different level when he’s in that attack mode.”
SNY reported late Wednesday night that league sources indicated the sprain isn’t as severe as the one that cost him the last two weeks of the season.
The Knicks can hope for that.
And also for Randle to pick up exactly where he left off when his left foot landed on Levert’s.
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