PHOENIX — Julius Randle said the other night the Knicks’ season is far from over and he made sure of it for almost three quarters of Friday night.
Then the enigmatic side of Randle reared its ugly head and he was ejected at 2:40 in the third quarter, with the Knicks leading by 10 points. after pushing Sun’s Cam Johnson forward.
Without Randle and with Johnson cheered, the Knicks couldn’t hold the lead in a wild Footprint Center.
Johnson led the Suns to a miracle finish, capping a brilliant fourth quarter by putting a 32-foot-3 pointer on the buzzer to give the Knicks another heartbreaking, easily avoidable loss, 115-114.
With Randle in the dressing room, Johnson scored 21 of his 38 points in the fourth quarter to lead the comeback win and send the Knicks to their seventh straight loss — and most crushing.
“He carried the hoop, carried us tonight, he was on his way to a 40-point night,” RJ Barrett said of Randle. “It would have helped us with the energy he brought into the game. But we should have won the game anyway.
“Even when Julius went down, we held our ground. We definitely should have won the game 100 percent. [Cam] burned and made a great shot at the end. It hurts, but we still walk away proud.”
Randle was not made available for comment afterwards.
“You can’t cross that line,” said Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau. “You have to know where to stop. None of us are perfect. We will make mistakes. But we have to be disciplined.”
“It’s hard to lose him. He had a great game going. I worry about everything The shame is that I thought we came out with a lot of effort to start the game. We had a good game and fell short at the end. It’s disappointing to come away with a defeat.”
The Suns took the lead with 30 seconds left, but Knicks center Mitchell Robinson (17 points, 15 rebounds, 8 of 8 from the field) hit with a tip-in with 15 seconds left and gave the Knicks a 113-112 lead and seems to be making himself a hero while bailing Randle out.
Alec Burks made one of two foul shots to make it 114-112 before Johnson’s game-winning 3-pointer and the Knicks failed to grab the loose ball rebound.
Randle (25 points) was a firebrand all evening but then lost his temper. Randle transitioned into his supercharged mode – the same frenetic form as earlier this season when he gave fans his infamous “thumbs down” gesture.
Johnson tried to box Randle, and the Knicks veteran elbowed him off as they battled for a rebound. Johnson then poked Randle in the back before Randle turned on the Suns youngster, started jawing and shoved him as the referee got between them.
After the game, Johnson said their fight started early in the game and kept escalating, having “adrenaline” on him in the fourth quarter because of the scuffle.
Barrett, who scored 20 points but only shot 6 of 26, said he didn’t speak to Randle afterwards and he and Thibodeau said they had no idea what happened. Thibodeau said he, too, didn’t speak to Randle, who finished with 25 points in 28 minutes, playing 9-for-18 and hitting all six of his free throws. He also had seven rebounds and four assists.
Players from both sides began grabbing each other and the uproar led to two technical fouls on Randle, which resulted in an auto ejection after a referee review. Johnson has a technical. After the skirmish, Evan Fournier gave Randle a high-five, unaware that his teammate was about to be thrown.
The Knicks were 86-76 with all the momentum before the incident. They still led 93-81 into the fourth quarter. Randle’s backup, Obi Toppin, was already out with a hamstring injury. Cam Reddish came on to play power forward and initially helped maintain the lead.
It’s been a furious season for Randle, who has battled umpires, fans and assistant coaches, and who hasn’t been the leader he needed to be as the returning Knicks All-Star.
“Losing him was tough, but we still have to win the game,” Barrett said. “We’re a man down, but everyone has to step up.”
https://nypost.com/2022/03/05/cameron-johnsons-buzzer-beater-sinks-knicks-in-loss-to-suns/ Cameron Johnson’s buzzer beater sinks Knicks in loss to Suns