Knicks’ Julius Randle has strong night on defense


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It looked like a breakaway layup for Josh Richardson. The Spurs guard was ahead of the pack after a Jalen Brunson turnover in the first quarter.

Julius Randle didn’t see it that way. He sprinted back and rejected Richardson’s layup attempt that not only erased an easy basket for the opposition, but led to two Immanuel Quickley free throws.

“Coach [Tom Thibodeau] always just says never give up on the play, don’t quit on a play. That’s really what it is,” Randle said after the Knicks’ 117-114 win over the Spurs on Wednesday at the Garden. “He had a couple steps on me. I saw he was measuring his steps looking back. Just chased it down, blocked it and Jalen did a good job of not quitting either. He got back in the play and got the rebound.”

The chase-down rejection was part of a strong night on the defensive end for Randle, who had a season-high four blocks. It made up for a poor shooting performance by the star forward, who hit only nine of 26 shots from the field. He did have 25 points, 13 rebounds, three steals and three assists.

Julius Randle blocks Josh Richardson’s layup attempt during the first half of the Knicks’ 117-114 win over the Spurs.

“I don’t know, just playing hard. I was garbage so I had to do something,” Randle said, referring to the blocks. “My teammates just do a good job just keeping me motivated. I got a little pissed off at myself. It intensified my motor a little bit just to play a little harder.”

Obi Toppin was available Wednesday night, but the plan for him was far more murky. For now, until he gets up to speed after missing the previous 13 games due to a non-displaced fracture in his right fibula, he will be used on a situational basis, Thibodeau said. Toppin didn’t play in the win over the Spurs.

Once he is ready to go full-bore, the Knicks’ coach will have a decision to make: Stay with his nine-man rotation and sit one of his reserve centers, Jericho Sims or Isaiah Hartenstein, or extend the rotation that has worked so well. Thibodeau made it clear Toppin will be part of the second unit after initially saying he would make that decision at the appropriate time. But his return will undoubtedly impact others.

Before suffering a lacerated right index finger that has cost him the last four games, RJ Barrett had played well with the reserves. Randle has excelled with a bigger minutes allotment. Adjustments will have to be made. In the 14 games Toppin has missed, the Knicks are 9-5.

“There’s gotta be flexibility there,” Thibodeau said. “So, we’ll get there, but obviously we want Obi back.”

Knicks guard Derrick Rose (knee) was available after missing Monday’s game, but didn’t play. … The Spurs were without guard Devin Vassell, their second-leading scorer, due to right knee soreness. … The Knicks’ next 12 games will be against Eastern Conference opponents.

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