LOS ANGELES — Tom Thibodeau couldn’t help himself. When he heard the questioner describe Julius Randle’s 14-point night as not a big game for him, the Knicks coach interrupted and went on a long rant.
“Let me correct you,’’ Thibodeau said after the Knicks’ 106-100 victory over the Clippers at Staples Center on Sunday. “Randle did have a big night.”
Relatively speaking, Thibodeau would be wrong as Randle finished with 14 points on 7 of 17 shooting (0 of 4 from 3) with four turnovers. But Randle also added 14 rebounds, five assists and hit three big shots down the stretch. That it didn’t come close to qualifying as one of his top games shows how amazing Randle’s season has been.
“They’re double-teaming him, he’s spraying the ball,’’ Thibodeau continued. “Everyone tends to measure people on points and shots and not the all-around game. The big thing is the perseverance, the way he rebounded the ball, the hustle plays he made. He played a great game without shooting the ball great. Then at the end of the game he made several big plays for us.
“When you have that type of mental toughness, it’s huge for your team. I thought he played a great game, though he didn’t have a high number of points. But he had a great overall game. And that’s what he does for us. I told Julius after the game, the physicality he played with was huge for us.’’
RJ Barrett has done it all year. Barrett was the goat in Phoenix for his inbounds snafu with 1.8 seconds left in the third quarter that turned around the game as the Knicks folded in the fourth quarter against the Suns. Thibodeau was irate at their lack of focus in the final frame.
Well, Barrett responded Sunday with 18 points, made 4 of 7 3s and blocked Paul George’s drive down the stretch.
“I messed up last game,’’ Barrett said. “Today it was a great bounce-back and it felt really good. Today I got cussed out at a timeout at the beginning of the fourth. It was good. I picked it up. The team picked it up and we got the win.’’
Thibodeau said before the game he spoke to Barrett at the morning walk-through Sunday about Friday night’s inbounds pass that was stolen by Cameron Payne for a layup to finish a 9-0 Phoenix run.
“It’s more than just playing hard,’’ Thibodeau said. “You have to maintain concentration and you have to combine that with your intensity level. We have to continue to build that habit.’’
With Immanuel Quickley (sprained ankle) and Alec Burks (knee contusion) both missing their second straight game, Frank Ntilikina got some rare action and was 1 of 4 in six shaky minutes in the first half. Ntilikina put up two airballs — one on a 3-pointer, the other on a runner after which he committed a bad foul. Ntilikina didn’t play in the second half. Quickley and Burks are questionable to play against the Lakers on Tuesday.