This was a night the Knicks didn’t need Julius Randle to shine. Thankfully.
This was a night Randle couldn’t overshadow RJ Barrett like he did last Thursday, when Barrett won the game on a miraculous banked buzzer-beater.
Barrett exploded for 31 points as the Knicks ran away from the Spurs in the second half to post a 111-96 victory Monday at the Garden. Barrett made 12 of 20 shots, 3 of 4 from 3-point land, as the fans chanted his name all night while they weren’t as kind to Randle.
With the Knicks hitting the season’s midpoint at 20-21, a passive Randle was held to a Knick-low two points in 34 minutes, going 1 of 7 — 0 for 3 from 3-point land.
He scored on the first possession of the game and then — shockingly — didn’t score again, looking very eager to drop the ball off to a teammate.
Randle was lightly booed during pregame introductions but heard it louder midway through the fourth quarter when he threw an errant pass for his third turnover.
After that, fans started chanting the name of his backup, Obi Toppin, and soon Randle was mercifully pulled. In the final minute, a rowdy section in the upper tier began a “Randle sucks” chant.
“The fact we won this game big without him scoring points says a lot about us as a team, but it’s not like he was doing nothing — he’s grabbing every rebound and doing a lot,’’ Barrett said. “He’s finding us.’’
In the past two games since he gave a thumbs-down to the fans and made a profane remark to explain it, Randle shot 7 of 26 and has looked like a $117 million role player.
Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau tried to be complimentary toward Randle, saying he played a smart game by deferring to his teammates, but when asked if Randle and the fans need to heal, the Knicks coach acknowledged this may have become an issue.
“We love our fans,’’ Thibodeau said. “Our fans are fantastic. There’s no better place to play in the NBA. There’s an appreciation for them. But along with it, there’s gonna be praise; there’s gonna be criticism, and don’t get wrapped up in either. The important thing is to lock into the team.’’
The Knicks didn’t need Randle on this night as they had four other double-figure scorers — Evan Fournier (18 points), Immanuel Quickley (12 points), Alec Burks (16 points) and Mitchell Robinson (13 points).
But it was Barrett who was unstoppable and it all started in the second quarter when the 2019 No. 3 pick scored eight straight points, initiated by his all-alone, left-handed windmill dunk, stealing a page from teammate Toppin.
“How could it not [get me going],’’ Barrett said. “If you threw down a windmill, you’d be feeling good. It was fun. It definitely got me going and the team kept feeding me.”
Oddly, Randle didn’t get many touches in the second half and often just dished the ball off without looking at the basket.
“We have to do a better job of finding him,’’ said Fournier, who returned from a bruised thigh with style. “We have to find a way for us to get going and finding a way to get him in his spots.’’
Randle was mostly passive after making the game’s first basket — an 18-footer from the right side.
In the final seconds of the half, Randle demanded the ball, looking to go one-on-one with the Spurs’ Keita Bates-Diop.
Randle didn’t see an opening to drive so he lofted a stepback 3-pointer that barely grazed the rim.
Boos ensued as Randle walked off to the locker room.
Randle was not made available for comment after the game. Thibodeau found the good in his performance that also included three assists and 12 rebounds.
“Julius made some good reads,’’ Thibodeau said. “They were doing a lot of switching. When they spray the ball out like that, we’re going to get good shots from that.
“Winning is the most important thing. I don’t get caught up in how many points someone scores or how many rebounds they. have. I want to know how the team is doing when you’re on the floor.’’
When Barrett was on the floor attacking, the Knicks were scoring in bunches.
“I love when RJ plays like that,’’ Robinson said. “Takes a lot of pressure off me. Hey, RJ keep doing your thing, man.’’