RJ Barrett, Julius Randle lead Knicks past Clippers to snap skid


The Knicks got a little of the old Julius Randle back for one afternoon and a lot of the new-and-improved RJ Barrett.

The maligned Randle set the tone with a strong first quarter and Barrett carried the Knicks the rest of the way in a 110-102 Sunday matinee victory over the undermanned Clippers at the Garden to break a three-game losing streak.

Barrett finished with 28 points, 14 rebounds and six assists, and Randle added 24 points, nine rebounds and five assists while hearing no boos.

“What I liked about today was just very efficient and getting to my spots on the floor and making quick decisions, making the easy decision,’’ Randle said.

Yes, Randle actually talked, breaking his media silence that had lasted since Jan. 11. He hadn’t spoken after seven straight games and eight of the previous nine. The Knicks were fined $25,000 after Randle didn’t come to the interview room Thursday following a loss to the Pelicans.

Asked why he had been a no-show, Randle replied tersely, “Just the team didn’t make me available.’’

RJ Barrett, Julius Randle lead Knicks past Clippers to snap skid
RJ Barrett
Robert Sabo/New York Post

When asked about the $25,000 fine levied against the franchise, Randle complimented Knicks owner James Dolan, who obviously is taking bullets for his star player.

“Honestly, I appreciate Mr. Dolan,’’ Randle said. “He’s great. But the reaction was the team didn’t make me available. All I can do is my job as a player and the team didn’t make me available. And that’s it.’’

Indeed, that was it as a Knicks public relations staffer immediately stopped the interview with a “Thanks, Julius.’’

With Randle and Barrett combining for 52 points, the Knicks (23-24) ended a stretch of playing eight of their past 10 games at home, finishing 6-4. Now they head out for a rough three-game road trip starting Monday in Cleveland and finishing in Miami and Milwaukee. After two games at home, the Knicks then embark on a five-game road trip.

“We’ve been really good on the road,’’ Barrett said. “I think that’s one thing about us. Also, we don’t care. I think we could beat anybody. I think we could beat anybody anywhere.’’

Well, they needed this one after Thursday’s boo-filled stinker against the Pelicans. The Knicks rested point guard Kemba Walker during this first game of a back-to-back and started Alec Burks at point guard — and that lineup flourished.

“I thought the start was really good, played with a lead, good, high energy,” coach Tom Thibodeau said, his voice hoarse. “Sharing the ball. Tied together offensively. And the rebounding was terrific.”

RJ Barrett, Julius Randle lead Knicks past Clippers to snap skid
Julius Randle
Robert Sabo/New York Post

“Was great to bounce back,’’ Barrett said. “We had three tough ones in a row, a couple that we should’ve won. Just to play well really from start to finish like we did today was a great feeling and something that we can replicate.’’

The day’s only loss was to surging center Mitchell Robinson just as backup Nerlens Noel made his return. Early in the third quarter, Robinson sprained his ankle and his status for Monday is unclear.

But label the maligned Randle as on the mend — spiritually and physically. His bout with the fans started this month with his thumbs-down, “Shut the f- -k up” gesture.

“Julius was terrific.’’ Thibodeau said. “Not looking backwards, just looking ahead. Think about the next play. Think about what we have to do. Just be aggressive. Attack the rim and go from there.’’

The Knicks jumped on the Clippers from the get-go with Randle, Evan Fournier and Barrett hitting consecutive 3-pointers. Then Randle pumped one in from near the free-throw line and the Knicks were up 11-2.

Randle scored 10 first-quarter points. The red-hot Barrett was terrific, again from inside, outside and the free-throw line. He made 3 of 5 from 3-point range and was 7-for-7 from the free-throw line. He punctuated his day by taking an Immanuel Quickley bounce pass on a fast break and roaring in for a high-flying lefty dunk.

RJ Barrett, Julius Randle lead Knicks past Clippers to snap skid
Julius Randle finished with 24 points.
USA TODAY Sports

“It’s tough when we both have it going because we can really play off each other and put others to get easier shots for Mitch and [Fournier, 14 points],” Randle said. “It’s just chemistry and everybody’s touching the ball and feel good in their rhythm.”

Last season’s 41-31 record was built on the Randle-Barrett 1-2 punch. Barrett has been doing much of the punching this season and the Garden fans chanted his name again with gusto.

“Just playing to his strengths,’’ Randle said. “He’s kind of figured out who he is as a player. He’s playing to his strengths and it makes us a really tough team when he plays like that.”