Frustration boiled over for the Knicks and Julius Randle on Sunday night at Madison Square Garden as they faced the Philadelphia 76ers. Five days earlier, the Knicks lost a down-to-the-wire 99-96 matchup to the Sixers on the road, and now they were engaged in another closely contested game.
With 5.3 seconds remaining in overtime and the Knicks up 100-99, Randle was called for a push on Tobias Harris under the 76ers’ basket. Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau attempted to challenge the call, but referee Courtney Kirkland asserted he did not do so within a requisite time frame, therefore denying Thibodeau the opportunity for a reversal.
The 6-foot-8 Harris, the 2010 high school Mr. New York Basketball playing for Half Hollows Hills West on Long Island, subsequently sank both free throws. Randle missed a last-gasp 18-foot jumper with one second left and the Sixers escaped with a 101-100 victory, angering Thibodeau and his All-Star forward.
“The wrong call by the officials,” said an exasperated Randle during his postgame interview session with the media. “Not enough contact for them to call the play. After all the fouling and everything that was going on, for them to call that and decide the game is [expletive] ridiculous. They have to do a better job. It’s too many games like this.”
Thibodeau, reacting more diplomatically, was in agreement with Randle. “Usually at the end of the game, there’s going to be, as they would say, marginal contact, incidental contact, every other kind of contact,” he said. “All I know is that we were getting hit a lot and there wasn’t marginal contact on that.”
Randle’s response expectedly cost him some money. On Tuesday, former Knick Kiki VanDeWeghe, the executive vice president of basketball operations of the NBA, announced Randle had been fined $15,000 by the league for directing inappropriate language toward a game official and public criticism of the officiating.
Later that night, Randle let his game do the talking, clapping back with 37 points to lead the Knicks to a 131-113 blowout of the Washington Wizards, raising their mark back to .500. They will play the Wizards again tonight at MSG before traveling to Milwaukee to face the Bucks on Saturday (8 p.m. tip-off). The Knicks begin next week’s slate with the Miami Heat at the Garden on Monday, March 29.
After defeating the Wizards, the Knicks and the Heat were both 22-22 when last night’s (March 24) schedule began. They were only a half a game behind the Atlanta Hawks for the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference. The Knicks have demonstrated resilience in enduring injuries to starting center Mitchell Robinson (fractured hand) and starting point guard Elfrid Payton (strained right hamstring), as well as primary back-up point Derrick Rose contracting COVID-19.
Guard/forward Reggie Bullock and guard Alec Burks have taken up some of the slack. Bullock has started 38 of the 39 games he’s played this season, shooting 40% on three-point attempts and 86% from the foul line. Burks, who battled a sprained ankle early this season, causing him to miss three weeks, has averaged 20.3 points over the Knicks’ last three games.
Robinson returned to the lineup on Sunday, coming off of the bench after missing 15 games, and Payton was back on the court in his starting role on Tuesday after being out five straight games. Rose could be ready tonight.