Julius Randle, Knicks head back to MSG on the brink after embarrassing loss to Hawks

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ATLANTA — Trae Young has the Knicks on the brink of elimination and Julius Randle has done nothing to stop it.

Randle, whose playoffs have been a revealing misadventure, mercifully ended his day prematurely by fouling out with three minutes remaining in the 113-96 blowout defeat to the Hawks, grabbing and shoving Danilo Gallinari for a Flagrant 1 and retreating to the bench after his sixth personal. Randle called the action retaliation, but it was more so emblematic of Randle’s frustration as he again shrunk in the playoffs.

The Knicks have waited all series for Randle to return to his regular-season form, and now it might be too late with Atlanta holding a 3-1 lead.

“I have to be a lot better. I need to continue to be a lot better,” Randle acknowledged. “This is all a learning experience. I need to get better individually, we need to get better as a team.”

Randle played a little better than his Game 3 dud two days prior, but the bar was so low that’s hardly an achievement. He missed 12 of his 19 shots Sunday with five turnovers, hearing “overrated” and “Playoff Randle” chants from the crowd at State Farm Arena. He finished with 23 points.

In the first playoffs of his career, Randle is shooting 20-for-73 (27%). It’s several steps below the level he achieved to earn the league’s Most Improved Player award and All-NBA consideration.

His flagrant foul on Gallinari occurred with the Knicks losing by 23 points down the stretch, clearly headed towards an embarrassing defeat in the biggest game of Randle’s pro career. He claimed Gallinari had elbowed Reggie Bullock on the previous possession, but replays showed that contact was more innocuous.

“Gallinari had a dirty play on Reggie. As the leader of my team, I can’t let that happen,” Randle said. “I wasn’t trying to hurt him. You’ve got a situation where, whatever it is, take a hard foul and just to let them know that we’re not accepting that s—t here.”

The Knicks, however, accepted a lot from the Hawks. Specifically, from Young.

Whereas Randle has wilted under the uptick in pressure and intensity, Young has thrived and is using this series as a reintroduction after being snubbed for the All-Star team. The point guard finished with 27 points and nine assists, getting to his spots with ease and sending New York’s defense in a blender.

The Knicks, like their home crowd, tried to intimidate Young with brashness and trash talk. Taj Gibson took his turn Sunday by jawing at Young. It didn’t work.

“It’s basketball. I don’t know how else to explain it,” Young said. “I play with excitement. I play with fun. I don’t talk mess but if you talk mess to me, I’m with it.”

The Hawks, the underdogs in this series, pulled away in the third quarter and led by as many as 26 in the fourth. Tom Thibodeau’s Knicks, lauded for their grit and fight all season, offered the resistance of a wet paper bag.

Now, in order to advance, they have to become just the 14th team to overcome a 3-1 series deficit. Other than decent performances from Derrick Rose (18 points) and RJ Barrett (21), Randle got little help from his supporting cast on Sunday. Reggie Bullock, for instance, went scoreless in 34 minutes and was burned by Young on the other end.

They all need to be better for the Knicks to have any chance to salvage a series that is developing into a disaster.

“I like our chances,” Randle said about winning the series. “To answer your question, I love our chances.’'