Knicks rest a less than 100% Julius Randle, leading to questions about his Game 5 status

Julius Randle Knicks
New York Knicks forward Julius Randle reacts after being fouled by Cleveland Cavaliers center Jarrett Allen during the second half of Game 2 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series, Tuesday, April 18, 2023, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Ron Schwane)

Julius Randle hasn’t looked like himself for much of the Knicks’ first-round series against the Cleveland Cavaliers. In his first action since spraining his ankle in late March against Miami, the Knicks’ All-Star is shooting under 30% from the field and struggling to make his normal impact on the game. 

That was more pronounced in Game 4 where Randle was a non-factor for much of the game. He was just 3-of-10 from the field and 0-of-4 from beyond the arc for seven points. He was unable to turn the corner against defenders, opting for stepback threes that just didn’t fall. 

In the third quarter, Randle seemed agitated when he couldn’t get his shot to fall and even came up significantly short on a free throw attempt that made it clear something wasn’t right. He started to play stagnant on the defensive end, missing rotations and failing to box out or challenge shots at the rim the way he normally does.

Cleveland capitalized and clawed back to take a 71-70 lead. 

At the end of the third quarter, Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau subbed Randle out of the game, and the power forward never came back in, leading to speculation that Randle had potentially re-injured his ankle. 

However, after the game, Thibodeau mentioned that the quick turnaround had a lot to do with his decision to not play Randle in the fourth quarter. 

“We knew this game was going to be a challenge just because of the quick turnaround,” he said. “The late game on Friday, turn around to an early start today.”

Considering the Knicks were up just two points when Randle came out of the game, it’s highly unlikely he was sat just to be rested for Game 5. However, the Knicks jumped out to a seven-point lead just five minutes into the fourth quarter and a nine-point lead with just under six left to play, so it’s possible that Thibodeau liked what he saw from the unit that was on the floor and saw the added benefit of allowing Randle to rest. 

Now the big question is what that means for the power forward’s status heading into next week’s game. 

“We got multiple days here, so he’ll get a chance to, you know, to get some recovery time,” Thibodeau said after the game. With the Knicks not playing again until Wednesday, Randle will have a couple of days to focus on recovery without even needing to worry too much about a grueling practice schedule. 

However, it’s fair to wonder just how healthy he can get himself, even in two days. 

Julius Randle Knicks
New York Knicks forward Julius Randle (30) and Cleveland Cavaliers center Jarrett Allen go for a rebound during the first half of Game 2 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series Tuesday, April 18, 2023, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Ron Schwane)

“Julius is our horse,” Thibodeau said. “He’s given us everything that he has. You know, a lot of guys probably wouldn’t even be playing… There’s 77 games, he sprains his ankle, and then he works like crazy to get back, knowing how important he is to his team…Our medical people did a great job, but that’s all him. He was working around the clock on that and he still is. That’s the challenge that we have.”

While Randle’s determination to get back on the court is admirable, it’s possible that the Knicks could take a bit of a long view with him now that they have a 3-1 series lead. With the way Obi Toppin has played, Thibodeau could choose to limit Randle’s minutes or perhaps even dictate his usage based on the flow of the game, as he did in Game 4. 

It’s no question that the team played better in the fourth quarter on Sunday, which is not a knock on Randle. He’s hurt and grinding for his teammates right now. But perhaps there’s an opportunity for his teammates to pick him up and give him extra time to heal. 

Thibodeau is right that the Knicks need Randle, but this is not the version of Julius Randle that the team has relied on all season. With other players stepping up, perhaps some extra rest for the Knicks All-Star may not be a bad idea for all involved. 

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