Knicks lottery pick Obi Toppin may have made the biggest contribution of his rookie season, spending more energy in holding back a raging Julius Randle than he did during the team’s loss to the Nets.
It was Knicks senior VP William Wesley who dragged Randle off the Barclays Center court, but Toppin slowed him down enough with his 23-year-old muscles.
Who knows how ugly the incident could have gotten after the final buzzer when Randle wanted to meet and greet referee Scott Foster.
The NBA is deciding whether to discipline Randle for his act on national television that doesn’t help its image. Certainly, Knicks fans loved the post-buzzer histrionics. If Randle was right about the play, it would’ve been an easier scene to support. But Randle wasn’t right.
On the West 4th Street playground, Randle committed an old-school up-and-down and Foster explained it well to pool reporter Brian Mahoney.
Randle had full possession of the ball as Kyrie Irving made the excellent defensive play in slapping the ball as he elevated for the jumper. Randle came down with the ball and dribbled on his own. Traveling.
“The defender was deemed to touch the ball, but not cause it to be dislodged or loose,’’ Foster said on an NBA transcript the league dispersed to the national media.
The NBA’s “Last Two-Minute Report’’ is expected to confirm Foster’s ruling as the correct one, meaning the Knicks did not get cheated.
If anything, the Knicks got the benefit of the doubt on the prior scramble when Alec Burks and RJ Barrett tied up Nets’ Joe Harris. Barrett was whistled for a foul, but it was reversed on a Tom Thibodeau challenge.
The lousy element to Randle’s post-buzzer rage was overshadowing the Knicks’ fierce comeback. Thibodeau’s group gritted and grinded their way back from being soundly beaten by a team vastly more talented for three quarters.
The Nets had mounted 96 points with 1:18 left in the third quarter, up 17, and finished with just 117.
“I thought we fought hard in the second half,’’ Thibodeau said. “I thought we did a lot of good things. i thought we created wide open shots, shared the ball, fought. We had a number of guys step up and play well.’’
The Knicks almost survived another James Harden triple double and made the Nets sweat it out. And in making the charge, Harden had it confirmed with his own ears this is still a Knicks town.
Most of the night, the crowd noise from the 1,600 socially-distanced fans was split between the two sides, but the fourth quarter sounded like Madison Square Garden Lite.
“I got a little taste of it. New York fans, especially Knick fans, you could hear them,” Harden said. “I’m just happy to be a part of the tradition and of the rivalry on this Nets team with the rhythm and the way we’re playing.”
Maybe this was Harden’s way of stoking the Brooklyn faithful to get louder the next time these teams meet in Brooklyn on April 5.
Tellingly, after the final buzzer, the Barclays Center filled with fake, artificially pumped in “Broooook-lyn’’ chants.
The Knicks bused down the Jersey Turnpike to Philadelphia after the loss with a .500 record – their fan base no less enthusiastic about the pandemic season.
The Nets didn’t have Kevin Durant but the Knicks were without their two point guards (Elfrid Payton, Derrick Rose) and had to give rookie Immanuel Quickley his first start against Irving.
Quickley never got his 3-point shot cooking consistently but still drained 21 points (4 of 12 from 3) and was – as he always is – fearless. Backup Frank Ntilikina was scoreless and fouled out, but Thibodeau still praised his defense.
Quickley probably earned another start Tuesday in Philly. The Sixers won’t have MVP candidate Joel Embiid (knee bruise) when the Knicks visit the Eastern Conference leaders Tuesday night.
And the Knicks will have something intangible in this old great boxing city that spawned Rocky. An ability to take a punch.