Knicks waste Mitchell Robinson’s career night with dismal guard play

Robinson was excellent on both ends Monday night, but it wasn’t enough for the Knicks. (Rick Bowmer/AP)

With Rudy Gobert out, the Knicks’ frontcourt was able to utterly abuse the Jazz in the paint Monday night.

Mitchell Robinson had the game of his life, feasting on Udoka Azubuike and Hassan Whiteside in the paint for 19 points and tying a career high with 21 rebounds. And Julius Randle had one of his most complete games of the season, leading the team with 30 points, though he did pass up an open shot in the paint at a critical moment with under two minutes left.

Unfortunately for the Knicks, guard play matters too, and their backcourt struggled on both ends with Kemba Walker (rest) and Quentin Grimes (sore knee) out. It added up to a 113-104 loss in Utah, their sixth loss in seven games and 9th of 11.

With the Knicks totally unable to squeeze offense out of their guards, the Jazz were able to clamp down late, holding them to two field goals in the final 4:59, both stat-padders in the final 40 seconds after the game had been decided.

“I thought we played really well for three quarters, then the start of the fourth, didn’t play well,” head coach Tom Thibodeau said after the loss. “Intensity’s different, physicality’s different…We gotta own our space and be strong with the ball,” he said of his team’s fourth-quarter turnovers.

It briefly looked like it would be another third-quarter collapse, with the Jazz starting the second half on a 9-1 run. The Knicks roared back with a run of their own, a 24-2 explosion for an 12-point lead late in the third that proved to be fool’s gold.

The Knicks dropped to 24-30 and 12th in the East with the loss.

New York tossed up 33 threes, hitting just eight, and struggled to slow Westchester native Donovan Mitchell, who had a game-leading 32.

It was a parade of bricks from the perimeter for the Knicks. RJ Barrett (8-of-25), Alec Burks (2-10), Evan Fournier (5-12) and Immanuel Quickley (2-9) all had poor shooting nights.

With Randle and Robinson (10 offensive boards) generating much of the offense, and Walker and Grimes out, it was a prime opportunity for Cam Reddish. The trade acquisition had barely gotten off the bench since joining the Knicks, getting 21 mostly garbage-time minutes in three games with his new team.

Reddish played early and often Monday night, and it was unimpressive. He was a game-worst -21 in 15 minutes, scoring just six points.

But as much as Reddish failed to seize on Grimes’ injury, Robinson succeeded in capitalizing on Gobert’s. (How the Jazz have looked in his absence is as good as case as any for why the French big man is a three-time Defensive Player of the Year.)

Robinson has shined in recent weeks after an ugly start to the season, something he pinned on struggling with conditioning after offseason foot surgery. Now he’s clearly fit, playing more than 30 minutes for the third straight game on Monday — something he hadn’t done since January 2021. He added three blocks and two steals in his 36 minutes, the most he’d played this year.

The young center could be on the move soon, with the trade deadline Thursday and his contract expiring after the season. “Whatever happens, happens,” Robinson told reporters before the game Monday. “I’m just here to play basketball… I don’t think about it that much. I just want to hoop. That’s what I’ve got an agent for.”

“Amazing, he’s a monster,” Randle said of Robinson after the game. “He’s been elite, I’m proud of him.”

Randle also dismissed the controversy of the day: fan footage that showed him slapping away a computer from the Knicks’ video coordinator in frustration during a loss to the Lakers. “Stuff like that happens all the time,” Randle said after the game. “I slapped his laptop today too,” he joked. “I wasn’t mad, but I slapped it.”