It was one of those moments in sports that stop you mid-sentence, stop whatever mood you’ve adopted, and mutter to yourself, “Oh no.”
Or, to quote Jalen Brunson, “Oh s–t.”
As the surging Knicks were wrapping up yet another impressive victory — this time by rolling over the hated Heat, 125-109 — Julius Randle elevated for a layup and couldn’t avoid the standing body of Miami’s Jaime Jaquez Jr. trying to draw a charge.
Randle got up, wincing, his shoulder out of place. You could see the dangling, limp right arm on the replays. His non-shooting arm.
Randle, known for his high pain tolerance and commitment to playing every game, darted off the court immediately. The Knicks were up by 17 with 4:27 remaining, but that’s not close to enough of a cushion for Tom Thibodeau to start pulling his starters.
Maybe you think it should’ve been. But Heat coach Erik Spoelstra also had in his starters, and, as Thibodeau repeats when pressed about his garbage-time philosophy, “No lead is safe.”
So Randle tumbled over Jaquez, his shoulder bearing the brunt of 250 pounds jamming into the hardwood. The arena crowd knew something was wrong. Thibodeau knew it, too.
“You hope for the best,” the coach said. “That’s where we’re at right now.”
And that’s where the Knicks left it Saturday afternoon, fearing the worst but hoping for the best.
“You knew for him to do that — he’s a guy who plays through things, and that’s what you love about him. He’s a warrior,” Thibodeau said. “And so, any time someone walks back, you know it’s something. I don’t wanna speculate until we have the information.”
An MRI will ultimately determine where this goes but there’s certainly a chance it sends Randle, who has played every game this season, to the injury report for an extended period. Brunson dislocated his shoulder about four years ago, underwent surgery to repair his labrum and went 10 months between playing games (also because of the pandemic).
Plus, Brunson said, “It was painful. Can’t lie.” That type of recovery timeline feels like a worst-case scenario for Randle, though. An X-ray didn’t reveal “much damage,” according to ESPN.
We’ll see about the MRI.
In the meantime, it’s fair to contemplate how the Knicks will be forced to look without their only All-Star. Sure, Brunson has been the best player and OG Anunoby is the key to unlocking a powerful defense.
But Randle balances it all with his ability to get to the hoop and create shots for himself. You don’t lose 24 points and nine rebounds per game and just shake it off. The Knicks also don’t have a natural backup power forward on the roster, instead using 6-foot-4 wing Josh Hart in that role for most of this season.
Between Hart, Anunoby, Precious Achiuwa and Jericho Sims, the Knicks have big bodies but nobody like Randle who commands attention from the defense and creates points for himself. His absence would create a domino effect that falls on Brunson.
“You don’t want to see that from anybody. Especially the way he’s been playing,” Brunson said. “He means a lot to us. So for him to go back there, obviously it’s not ideal. When we figure out what’s wrong, we’ll go from there.”
The frustrating part of this for Knicks fans is the team had reached, it seemed, a perfect balance. Especially with a dominating starting unit. They won six straight games. They destroyed the Nuggets and were doing the same to the Heat before Randle’s spill.
After that, nobody knew what to think or where this was headed. A six-game winning streak and a beatdown of the Heat never felt so worrisome.
“We got to stick together,” Brunson said. “We can’t just have one person pick up the slack or anything.”