Coach’s Julius Randle decision added to Knicks’ Game 2 failure

CLEVELAND — It apparently wasn’t enough that the Knicks, all of them one through nine, left the best part of themselves back at the Ritz-Carlton, a couple of blocks away.

At the end of a perfectly deplorable basketball game, their coach took leave of his senses, too, and almost got his All-Star forward killed.

So it was a complete team failure.

Julius Randle survived the frightening spill he took when Jarrett Allen sent him flying into the fancy seats with 2:22 left of what became a not-even-close-to-as-close-as-the-score-indicates 107-90 spattering at the hands of the Cavaliers on Tuesday night.

It seems Randle may have avoided the six or seven worst-case scenarios that were possible when he went sideways after dunking over Allen.

The Knicks have to see that as a hopeful metaphor.

Because that crash landing was a filthy but fitting microcosm of what happened to the Knicks in Game 2 of their first-round playoff series at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse. Randle got to his feet.

The Knicks better be able to get to theirs by the time this best-of-seven series resumes at Madison Square Garden, where a certain percentage of the locals will surely be well-oiled by the time the ball tips at 8:30 p.m. Friday night.

The Knicks’ engine had better be similarly relubricated by then.

Because a repeat of Tuesday would be an ugly proposition.

Knicks coach Thibodeau

“They just played better,” Jalen Brunson said. “We’ve got to get together the next couple of days and get ready to go Friday. They were desperate. We’ve got to be better.”

“They beat us to the ball,” Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said.

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And everywhere else, too.

The Knicks did accomplish what they needed most in their four-day stay by Lake Erie, splitting a pair of games, which means they don’t have to win another game in Cleveland as long as they properly tend to their business back home — which, it must always be noted, hasn’t exactly been a given much of this season.

Still whatever momentum you might’ve figured the Knicks gained in their thrilling 101-97 win Saturday night — and seemed to have carried over when they raced to a 12-4 start Tuesday night, reducing the kinetic arena to a worried whisper — vanished in an ugly blur of turnovers (13 in the first half, 17 for the game) and brutal shooting (they missed 20 of their first 28 shots).

Julius Randle went crashing to the court on a flagrant foul by Jarett Allen in the fourth quarter.
Charles Wenzelberg/New York Post

Scapegoats? They were everywhere. Brunson was sluggish all night. RJ Barrett’s offensive struggles (4-for-13) persisted. The Knicks bullied the Cavs on the boards Saturday; the Cavs returned the favor Tuesday.

Even the hero of Game 1, Josh Hart, was minus-29 in only 27 minutes.

Yes, he was toughing out an ankle sprain (“If I’m out there, I’m fine,” he said), but that’s still an astonishing number.

And the team-wide defensive effort that minimized and managed to muffle Darius Garland on Saturday evaporated as the Cavs’ slick guard knocking down six 3s on the way to 32 points and seven assists. From the moment they jumped to that eight-point lead, the Knicks spent 19 ½ minutes on the business end of a 55-27 stomping.

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Oh, did we mention Donovan Mitchell only shot the ball 11 times and only scored 17 points?

Yes. It was that kind of annihilation.

“We knew,” Thibodeau said, “that the challenge would be the intensity of the game.”

Thibodeau said he wanted to take Randle out of the blowout a few minutes before his fateful collision with Allen, but Randle talked him into staying in a while longer to work on his “rhythm.”

If it’s admirable that the All-Star didn’t want to abandon his teammates in garbage time, it’s also on Thibs to go with an old and useful aphorism: better to err on the side of caution.

The game was long over. The regulars were still on the floor (though, in fairness, so were Cleveland’s), but Randle is still playing on a balky ankle. Why was he out there?

Jalen Brunson and the Knicks struggles in Game 2.
Charles Wenzelberg/New York Post

The Knicks didn’t seize the low-hanging fruit of hammering Allen’s hammering, and that’s as it should have been. Randle himself called it “irrelevant.”

The Knicks got a flight home to ponder their poor performance, then will have two days to prepare for what ought to be the best basketball atmosphere the Garden has witnessed in years.

“We got to go back and we’ll be home but that doesn’t guarantee two wins,” Hart said. “MSG sill be rocking but we still have to go out and execute.”

Knicks fans always like to think they have a hand in making the good times especially good at the Garden. They can prove that Friday.

Because the Knicks sure could’ve used them Tuesday.