New York Knicks forward Julius Randle struck an apologetic tone at shootaround Sunday morning as his team prepares to take on the Los Angeles Clippers. Randle, who was ejected from New York’s tough 115-114 loss to the Phoenix Suns on Friday night, said he felt bad about letting his teammates down in a game that was certainly winnable for the Knicks.
“It hurts not to win,” Randle said. “I’m more upset I wasn’t available for my team down the stretch. That’s what hurt me more than anything. I apologize to the guys for it. It hurt I couldn’t be there down the stretch.”
The altercation occurred with 2:30 left in the third quarter when Randle and Suns forward Cam Johnson got physical as Randle attempted to box out Johnson on a made Evan Fournier 3-point attempt. After the bucket, Randle beelined toward Johnson and chest-bumped him. A referee stepped in between the two players as they were exchanging words, but Randle then shoved the official’s hand out of the way and forcibly pushed Johnson. Players from both teams eventually stepped in between both players, and Randle was immediately ejected from the game for initiating and escalating the situation.
Up to that point, Randle had 25 points and was dominating a Suns roster that was without both Chris Paul and Devin Booker. The Knicks were also up 86-76 on the Suns, but Randle’s ejection swung the game in Phoenix’s favor. Johnson ended up hitting the game-winning shot to lift the Suns over the Knicks, handing New York its seventh straight loss. The league announced Sunday afternoon that Randle has been fined $50,000 for “shoving Johnson, making contact with a referee and for his “noncompliance with an NBA investigation.”
“I was a little bit surprised,” Randle said of the ejection. “But it’s part of the game. I usually thought I’d get one [technical] and it would be over with. I didn’t see the double tech coming. But it’s still my fault.”
Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau also agreed that Randle let his temper get the best of him, but didn’t necessarily agree with the double technicals that led to his ejection.
“It’s an emotional game,” Thibodeau said. “There’s going to be exchanges. You have to be careful not to cross over that line. Everyone understands that. It was unfortunate. I thought it was borderline to be honest with you. You can’t put it in an official’s hands to make a decision like that. We can learn from that.”
It’s just the latest tough loss for a Knicks team that hasn’t lived up to the preseason expectations many had for them. After making it to the playoffs a season ago as a No. 4 seed in the East, the Knicks are currently staring down an abysmal 25-38 record, and sit 12th in the Eastern Conference standings. If the playoffs started today, not only would New York not be in the playoffs, but it wouldn’t even make the cut for the play-in tournament with six games separating them and the 10th-place Atlanta Hawks.
With just 19 games remaining in the regular season, the Knicks have a significant amount of work to do if they want to make the play-in tournament. If New York stands a chance at getting there, it’ll need more from Randle, who can’t afford to get ejected from games at critical junctures.