Julius Randle receives big cheers from Knicks fans after key buckets

Consider this a start, the beginning of fences being mended, a small step toward repairing the damage done between Julius Randle and Knicks fans last year.

Randle produced two big baskets in Wednesday’s 134-131 win over the Hornets, a go-ahead layup near the end of regulation and a mammoth drive and finish that extended a one-point lead to three with 19.2 seconds to go in overtime. After each hoop, the sold-out Garden crowd showered Randle with applause, exploding at his well-timed finishes. After the first one, he pumped his fist.

“Look, we have great fans. We know it. We love it,” coach Tom Thibodeau said. “And basketball is important to this city and the Knicks are important to this city. I think there’s great appreciation for when a player gives great effort. And they recognize it.

“You make a good basketball play, it’ll be recognized. You make the hustle play, it’ll be recognized. So I think he’s learned, he’s learned from each situation.”

Julius Randle celebrates during overtime of the Knicks' 134-131 victory over the Hornets.
Julius Randle celebrates during overtime of the Knicks’ 134-131 victory over the Hornets.
N.Y. Post: Charles Wenzelberg

Randle was booed last year by disappointed Knicks fans as he went from the NBA’s Most Improved Player two years ago to the sulking, struggling face of last year’s dismal 37-45 campaign. He gave fans a thumbs-down gesture during a January win over the Celtics. When asked what it was for, Randle responded, “To shut the f–k up.’’

A different Randle has shown up this season, a leaner player who has bought into playing with the ball less and moving it more, making needed adjustments after the arrival of Jalen Brunson. Randle continued his strong start Wednesday, even if this was overall an uneven performance for him, a 7-for-19 shooting effort with just two assists. But he made two of the game’s biggest plays, and the MSG crowd let him hear its approval.

“It was good. I’m in the moment,” Randle said, acknowledging the crowd, without making too much of the positive reaction he received. “You hear it, obviously. You hear the energy. It’s great to feel the energy from the crowd, but just staying in the moment, just trying to win the game.”

It will take more than four games for Randle to win back Knicks fans. It will take more than four games for the Knicks to prove they should be taken seriously this season. But this has certainly been a good way for them to start making believers out of the orange-and-blue faithful.

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