Julius Randle’s meltdown leads to third straight Knicks defeat, goes 5-for-24 in loss to Clippers

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Julius Randle lost his cool.

It was a flashback to last season, when Jalen Brunson wasn’t around and Randle’s quick-triggered anger contributed to an ugly and spiraling season. But Randle seemed to get that under control as he re-emerged as a 2023 All-Star.

Until Saturday in Los Angeles.

Randle picked up a technical foul at the end of the third quarter after clobbering the Clippers’ Mason Plumlee in the chest with an elbow. After the whistle, Randle went after the referees and appeared upset with a Knicks security guard near the team bench.

It was an ugly scene and impossible not to correlate with Randle’s terrible basketball performance. With Brunson injured and in street clothes, Randle missed 19 of his 24 shots as the Knicks lost their third straight Saturday, 106-95, falling from fifth to sixth in the Eastern Conference behind the Brooklyn Nets.

“There was definitely a physicality to the game. It is what it is,” coach Tom Thibodeau said. “Just heat of the battle. Sometimes you can get frustrated. But it’s an emotional game. Just keep playing.”

Randle’s tantrum was a critical point. The three free throws (two from Plumlee for the foul, one from Kawhi Leonard because of the technical) gave the Clippers the lead to start the fourth quarter. It also started L.A.’s 9-0 run and the Knicks (39-30) never recovered.

Although Randle blamed the referees on the court, it was an evenly-called contest with the officials allowing for more physicality. In fact, the Knicks attempted 11 more free throws than the Clippers. One other possible explanation for Randle’s frustration is simple exhaustion. His 34 minutes Saturday placed him as the league leader in total minutes played. Randle also didn’t have Brunson to share the load, and the other running mate — RJ Barrett — struggled Saturday while shooting 5 for 12.

Thibodeau didn’t co-sign the tired excuse.

“I’m also buying into if a guy is missing shots, that means he’s tired,” the coach said.

Randle’s effort contrasted the dominance of Kawhi Leonard, who dropped 38 points for the Clippers’ third straight win. Randle, the reigning Eastern Conference Player of the Week, shot just 18 for 63 during the three-game losing streak.

With the Knicks playing the Lakers in a back-to-back Sunday, Thibodeau didn’t seem eager to rest Randle.

“You can give them a day off. And you can give them a day off when they’re not playing, too,” Thibodeau said. “There are different ways to give days off. And the thing with Julius is he works hard so that he can handle these minutes. And he wants to play these games.”

Brunson, meanwhile, missed his third game with a “sore foot.” He returned Thursday in Sacramento but only lasted a half before reaggravating the injury and limping to the locker room.

The Knicks certainly miss him.

Thibodeau told reporters that Brunson underwent an X-ray, which was negative, and classified the injury as a bruise. Otherwise, Thibodeau, who is vague about injuries, wouldn’t provide a recovery timeline.

“When he gets cleared, he’s cleared,” Thibodeau said.

Immanuel Quickley again replaced Brunson as the starting point guard, and his play was under the microscope after shooting a miserable 6-for-27 in the previous two games. Quickley responded Saturday with a strong effort — 26 points, 10 rebounds — but couldn’t overcome Randle’s misery.