Thursday’s Knicks-Pelicans game was supposed to be on national television, but was pulled because of Zion Williamson’s season-long absence.
It is very good thing, sparing the Knicks and Julius Randle a nationally televised embarrassment as the Pelicans rolled to a 102-91 trouncing before a wave of ferocious boos at the Garden.
As the Knicks dropped their third straight, all at home, Randle’s season kept sinking into an abyss in a 1-for-9, four-point train wreck that got him benched.
He was unable to do a thing against smaller wings assigned to defend him and was booed the most vociferously.
Randle took out his anger on the referees, picking up a technical foul after the first half had ended, then snapping at teammate Evan Fournier who tried to settle him down.
The team said afterward it would not make Randle available to reporters. He hasn’t talked to the media after eight of the last nine games.
“It’s easy to say that [about Randle being off-kilter], but it’s really our entire team,’’ coach Tom Thibodeau said. “When things aren’t going our way, Julius is gonna take a lot of blame. He gets a lot of the credit, but that goes with the turf. But it’s a team game, and we didn’t get into it with any one individual. When they’re not going our way, I just want us to be mentally tough and be able to work through it.’’
With 4:50 left in the third quarter, Randle drove, stopped and whipped a pass crosscourt into the stands — 5 feet over the head of Fournier. The boos crashed down the loudest on Randle.
One fan screamed from the upper reaches: “C’mon Julius, wake up!’’
Soon, the Garden fans chanted “O-bi, O-bi’’ for Randle’s backup, Obi Toppin, who finally replaced Randle for good with 1:30 left in the third.
“The main thing I’m happy I see guys pissed off about it rather than just joking about it, laughing about it,’’ Taj Gibson said. “We got some serious guys in the locker room that really want to do well. Nights like this hurt.’’
By the time the 35-15 third quarter had mercifully ended, the Pelicans were up by 24 points, 81-57. It hadn’t been this bad at the Garden since the 2019-20 season. The Knicks shot 37.7 percent — 23.7 from 3 — and made just 66.7 percent of their free throws, missing 12.
“The first five minutes of the third we were in mud,’’ Thibodeau said. “We played hard, but we didn’t play with the toughness we needed to in terms of fighting through things. The last six games we have this inconsistency we have to fix.’’
The Pelicans, who started the season 1-12 and have played around .500 ball since, moved to 17-28. The Knicks fell back to 22-24 but look much worse now than the record.
Early in the second quarter, the Knicks fell behind 33-20 after Pelicans backup point guard Jose Alvarado, a Brooklyn native, stole an inbounds pass intended for Immanuel Quickley and coasted in for a layup. Alvarado was a jitterbug and finished with 13 points. Thibodeau called timeout and boos descended onto the court for the first time and hardly the last.
“Teams get up to play in the Garden,’’ RJ Barrett said. “It’s a great place to be.’’
Barrett declined to discuss the boos other than saying, “They outplayed us. They made a lot of shots. And we didn’t. I don’t think we didn’t play hard or didn’t play defense.’’
The Knicks made a big run in the fourth quarter to cut their deficit to 10 points with 3:35 left and Randle on the bench.
Hearing occasional jeers across the first half in shooting 1 of 7, Randle finally lost it in the final minute. He had a layup attempt underneath blocked by center Jonas Valanciunas, who got all ball but his hand brushed Randle’s face.
There was no whistle and Randle carried on to the officials as play continued. In the final seconds, Randle drove to the basket, missed at the rim but tipped it in at the buzzer.
Randle immediately turned to referee Mitchell Ervin and shouted something as he walked off, drawing technical, then angrily shooing Fournier away.
It was an ugly scene in an ugly season.