- Benjamin Gerstel
Cam Johnson responds to Randle altercation, with a game winner and career-high 38 points
Early In the first half, Julius Randle and Cam Johnson were getting into it. The fight in the second quarter was brewing all night and was not an isolated incident. With 4:23 left, Randle shoved his left shoulder into Johnson’s chest. For the duration of the next play, Cam was still lifeless on the floor and couldn’t get up until a whistle was called. Monty Williams was visibly upset, as Johnson headed into the locker room once the ball was dead. Johnson seemed okay after and it looked like he just got the wind knocked out of him. He returned, and made Julius Randle regret that cheap shot later on.
To their credit, the Knick’s did all they could to match Phoenix’s immaculate ball movement and pace. They played much more physically and efficiently than usual, behind Randle’s 20 first half points. Mitchell Robinson also was a sponge on the glass, winning his matchup against Deandre Ayton all night. An offensive rebound by Robinson was kicked out for a Knicks' three, to end the half, showing the effectiveness of Mitchell’s play. Alec Burks was also hit some huge shots for them. For a team that’s lost five straight, it was an impressive performance against the best team in the league. As for Phoenix, Mikal Bridges’ 17 led them in the first half. On top of leading Phoenix offensively, Bridges was also a menace all night defensively, constantly forcing turnovers and getting out on the break. He flushed down a highlight-worthy transition dunk in the second quarter, and resumed locking down in the third. Tonight, Bridges proved yet again why he is one of the best two-way players in the game.
Phoenix and New York went back and forth all second half as well. Courtesy of Mitchell Robinson, who was making his presence felt on both endss on the floor. New York had everything going for themselves early on. Mitchell was locking down, and scoring offensively while Randle showed off with a reverse layup under the rim. A Fournier three gave New York it’s biggest lead of the night with 2:40 left. Unfortunately, for New York, Fournier’s three started a scuffle between Cam Johnson and Randle again, and coaches had to separate the large crowd of players. As a result of a shove by Randle, the Kentucky star got his second technical in the same sequence and was ejected from the game. It clearly turned the tides, as New York lost their source of scoring. With Randle out, Quickly hit a signature floater and three, and then R.J. Barrett hit a layup off the break to close out the quarter. New York outscored Phoenix 38-23, but headed into the fourth without their superstar.
In the fourth quarter, Cameron Payne perfectly paced Phoenix. His aggressive slashing, and search for that floater opened things up for Phoenix, like a Cameron Johnson layup for his 20th point. On top of attacking, Payne was also doing a masterful job facilitating. The next possession, he went around the baseline and assisted Cam Johnson again, who drilled a three on the wing. Payne made the most out of his opportunity with Chris Paul out, and had a career night, as he posted 17 points and a career-high 16 assists. He shattered his previous career high of 11 assists and has been exceptional since he has returned from injury. The 14th overall pick in 2015 wasn’t the only Cam who had a career night for Phoenix as well.
Behind a career 38 points from Johnson, and an absurd 9-11 from three, Phoenix ferociously came back in the final frame. Johnson knocked down a three at the top of the key, hit another one in the face of Immanuel Quickley, and had one more for good measure over two defenders in the fourth alone. Mitchell Robinson cleaned up the glass all night but Cameron Johnson was just too much. Randle’s altercations with Johnson unlocked a new level from him and New York ended up paying the price. To cap off a career performance, Johnson shattered the Knicks’ hearts, when he banked in a three in epic fashion. After Burks missed a free throw, Payne hit Johnson as he trailed him near the top of the arc, and Johnson sent New York home. Johnson and Phoenix got the last laugh tonight, and Phoenix won the game 115-114.
It’s a disappointing finish to a relatively strong performance by New York. However, they couldn’t get over losing Randle and a career night from both Cameron Payne and Johnson. New York slides even further down the standings as they lose their sixth straight, and Phoenix maintains their claim as one of the best teams in the league in crunchtime. Phoenix has another tough Eastern Conference matchup Sunday, when they head into Milwaukee. New York will play the Clippers in their next matchup.