Julius Randle struggles as depleted Knicks get routed by Celtics

BOSTON — It was a thumbs-down performance by the Knicks — and Julius Randle.

Evan Fournier was out with a bruised hip, so the Knicks needed Randle to be his All-Star self Saturday night against the Celtics, especially after the power forward created an unnecessary distraction for the team this week.

But Randle appeared to be pressing after putting himself in the spotlight by giving a thumbs-down to Garden fans Thursday night in the first clash of the week against Boston and then saying he did it to signal the fans to “shut the f–k up.’’

Randle, getting worse as the game wore on, had no touch and was sloppy, at times failing to catch passes. And the Knicks were offensively inept as they were routed, 99-75, at TD Garden.

Randle finished with 13 points, shooting 6-for-19 and 1-for-8 from 3-point range. He filled up the box score, committing six turnovers with six assists and 12 rebounds in 38 minutes.

Jayson Tatum, who scored 19 points drives past Julius Randle during the Knicks’ 99-75 loss to the Celtics.

Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau had wanted Randle to put the controversy behind him after he apologized on Instagram and was fined $25,000 by the NBA for “egregious use of profane language.’’

Before the game, Thibodeau acknowledged Randle’s mistake.

“Like anyone, you have a bad day at work and you bounce back the next day,” the coach said. “Just make sure it’s not two days in a row.’’

The Knicks also needed a big game from Alec Burks with Fournier’s absence out for just the second time this season. Fournier had scored 41 points in the Knicks’ buzzer-beating win Thursday and had dominated the Celtics all season. Burks, though, laid an egg, scoring eigght points on 2-for-11 shooting.

Boston’s Jaylen Brown (22 points) drilled a 3-pointer with one second left in the third quarter to send the Celtics into the final period with a 76-60 lead.

Randle didn’t score during a very poor third quarter in which he showed bad hands (or thumbs), bobbling passes, committing two turnovers and missing two straight 3-pointers.

The Knicks (19-21) and Celtics (19-21) now have the same record and have finished their season series at 2-2. They could meet in the play-in tournament, which will feature the seventh to 10th place teams in the Eastern Conference.

Celtics' Jaylen Brown, who had a triple-double, goes up for a layup during the Knicks' loss.
Celtics’ Jaylen Brown, who had a triple-double, goes up for a layup during the Knicks’ loss.
NBAE via Getty Images

The Knicks took a 31-21 lead early in the second quarter behind hot 3-point shooting from RJ Barrett and Immanuel Quickley. But the Celtics’ ball movement got them back in it, putting the Knicks defense in scramble mode that led to easy baskets inside.

The Celtics went on a 23-7 run and led 44-38 with under two minutes left in the first half. The Knicks went into intermission down just 44-42 thanks to a hustle play by RJ Barrett, who sprinted to the rim and was fouled on an attempted dunk with 0.9 seconds left.

Though Barrett missed both free throws, center Mitchell Robinson tapped in the miss at the first-half buzzer. Barrett finished with 19 points, but shot 1-for-5 from the free-throw line.

In his first game since putting himself at the center of a broiling fan controversy, Randle didn’t shoot well, but drew double teams and recorded four assists.

Still his halftime line was bleak — 3-for-10, 1-for-5 from 3-point range and four turnovers, including two bad passes on consecutive possessions. One Randle delivery was intercepted, the other went out of bounds.

Fan favorite Obi Toppin, who is regressing, also had a regrettable performance. Toppin was scoreless in nine minutes, had two of his driving attempts blocked and shot an airball that might have landed in Boston Harbor.

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