CLEVELAND — The brutal irony was this: Julius Randle attacked this game straight from its best model.
When Randle’s on, really on, he’s going to score in droves.
He’s going to clear the boards fiercely.
He will prepare his teammates with nice passes.
And he’s going to lean on the other guys’ bigs, all 250 pounds of him.
That version had been absent from most of this series until now.
That version was front and center on Wednesday night.
Randle played 16 minutes in the first half.
He scored 13 points.
He had four rebounds.
He had six assists.
His 3-point shot didn’t fall, but he was strong to the basket, making three shooting fouls, making five of six free throws and helping to frustrate the Cavaliers.
“He was aggressive,” Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said. “He charged us early.”
And just when it seemed things couldn’t get any better…
The Knicks were up 13, 59-46, with 1:25 left in the half.
Cleveland’s Caris LeVert attempted a 15-foot shot, missed, but when Randle attempted to answer the shot, she jumped and landed on LeVert’s foot, her left ankle rolling, same ankle and in the same way that she sprained it on the 29th of March, when he landed on the foot of Bam Adebayo at Madison Square Garden.
That cost him the last five games of the regular season and took him 17 days to recover.
Randle limped into the locker room and sat out the second half of the Knicks’ 106-95 win over the Cavs.
He came out dressed for the street and sat on the bench for the final two quarters.
“It would be premature for me to comment until it obviously has to be re-examined. [Thursday]Thibodeau said. “So we’re hoping it’s not bad.”
Obi Toppin came on and deftly replaced Randle, but as well as he played at this point in his career, he’s nowhere near the best Randle is, and he was at his best for those 16 minutes of the first half.
“It was fantastic, in a lot of different ways,” Thibodeau said. “Just the aggressiveness, a lot of energy, attacking the rim, spraying the ball, I think he had six assists in 16 minutes, but attacking from all sides. When he plays like that, our offense goes to a different level when he’s in that attack mode.”
SNY reported Wednesday night that league sources indicated the sprain is not as severe as the one that cost him the final two weeks of the season.
The Knicks can expect that.
And also for Randle to pick up exactly where he left off when his left foot landed on Levert’s.