September 27, 2022

Julius Randle struggles as Knicks fall to Jazz, 108-93

Rudy Gobert stymied the Knicks on both ends of the court. (Seth Wenig/AP)

Julius Randle’s game stalled and his temper flared up again.

This time, the target was Rudy Gobert, the Jazz center who was a major factor in boxing Randle into a miserable evening.

Randle pushed Gobert toward the end of the Knicks 108-93 loss Sunday, which prompted Gobert into a gesture of peace by putting his arm around Randle’s shoulder. But the Knicks forward’s anger swelled and spilled into a small post-game fracas, with security stepping in to keep Randle away from trouble after the final buzzer. It continued with Randle making a menacing gesture at a referee as he walked off the court.

Gobert and Randle downplayed the beef.

“(Randle was) upset by the loss and overreacted a little bit,” Gobert said. “But I think everything is good. No issues.”

Replays showed Tom Thibodeau tried to usher Randle off the court after the game, but the coach wouldn’t comment on the situation.

“I haven’t seen it,” Thibodeau said. “I haven’t looked at the film yet.”

Randle, who was ejected from a game this month for shoving Phoenix’s Cam Johnson, was a mess Sunday while missing 15 of his 21 shot attempts, drawing boos from the MSG crowd after a costly turnover in the fourth quarter. He was the main culprit of another late-game Knicks dud, when their reserves cut the deficit to 4 before the starters returned to quickly blow it.

Randle scored just six points in the second half on 3-of-11 shooting. He said the postgame argument was rooted in confusion.

“I really don’t know, to be honest with you. I was having a conversation with the official at first, and when I walked away they were kind of grabbing me, I guess they thought it was some confrontation between me and (Gobert) from the play before,” Randle said. “But it wasn’t. It was a little too much. But it’s fine. It’s not a big deal.”

Still, replays showed Randle clearly heated and distraught about something. He has shot 15-for-62 in his last three games and Thibodeau ignored a question about Randle’s struggles, turning into an answer about the team being “a step behind.”

With the Hawks falling to the Pelicans earlier in the day, the Knicks had an opportunity to cut their deficit to four games out of the final play-in spot. It was more significant since the Knicks host the Hawks on Tuesday.

Instead, the Knicks were pummeled down the stretch and remained five games out. Trae Young could bury them Tuesday.

On the Jazz side, Donovan Mitchell demonstrated why he’s a superstar worthy of chasing. Mitchell, who grew up close to the Knicks practice facility in Westchester, put on a show at with 36 points in front of family and friends.

Mitchell is seen around the league as a potential trade target for the Knicks, whether this summer or down the road, but he’s under contract in Utah until at least 2025 and would need to force his way out like James Harden or Ben Simmons.

But as it stands, the Jazz (45-26) are much better than the Knicks (30-41). Mitchell sounded Sunday like it was a chore arranging tickets for all his New York supporters, and ended his media session with a cheer for a local team that has a better shot at the playoffs.

“Go Mets,” said Mitchell, whose father works for the baseball team.