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Knicks thrill in overtime win. Julius Randle still the King of New York

Knicks Celtics, Julius Randle

Of all of the ways to start their 2021-22 season, the New York Knicks certainly picked the way most fit for Broadway.

Julius Randle had 35 points, eight rebounds, and nine assists for the Knicks in his opening night foray — a 138-134 double overtime win over the Boston Celtics — putting to bed — at least for a night — any concerns from naysayers over the dreaded “regression” that many predicted was an inevitability for last year’s Most Improved Player.

Evan Fournier also (rightly) is getting many of the headlines for his 32-point, eight-rebound performance, where he lit ablaze in the first overtime and canned three straight triples against his former team from a year ago. But it was also a Fournier gaffe that saw the Knicks even go to overtime, doubling Dennis Schröder at the end of regulation and allowing a pass down court to Marcus Smart for a game-tying three as time expired.

That’s why, even despite Fournier’s heroics, Julius Randle remains the King of New York after the Knicks’ first game of the season. He pulled out a little bit of everything from his bag — midrange shooting, 3-point shooting, consistent free throw shooting, even a little rim protection on the defensive end (he had a team-high three blocks). But perhaps the best and most important aspect of Randle’s big night was his finishing on the inside, which was what he utilized when the Knicks needed a bucket the most, late in the second overtime when players on both teams’ legs were failing them and nobody could get a shot down.

One more Fournier three and a clutch Derrick Rose layup were what ultimately sealed the game on the scoreboard, but Randle’s tough finish in traffic was a testament to his status as the Knicks’ alpha dog — there was a scoring drought of almost two minutes from a made RJ Barrett layup at 3:45 left until Randle’s and-one layup with 1:46 to go. Both teams were stuck in mud, dead-legged, and so the Knicks went to their best player — the one whose conditioning is legendary, whose strength is enough to still out-muscle Robert Williams in the paint at the end of a marathon game.

A combination of Obi Toppin and Julius Randle that was explored in the final preseason game reared its head again as well, made necessary by Taj Gibson missing the game due to the birth of his first child, rendering 58th pick Jericho Sims as the only true backup center on the roster behind Mitchell Robinson with Nerlens Noel still hurt.

That small-ball lineup keyed the comeback in the second half, featuring Toppin streaking down the court a number of times for easy transition dunks. But that lineup couldn’t function if one of Randle or Toppin wasn’t able to protect the rim, and Randle surprisingly took the task and notched three blocks, hopefully leaving the door open for the small-ball approach to stick around even once Noel and Gibson are back in their roles behind Robinson.

At any rate, a game that saw many heroes for the Knicks saw one rise above the fray, as he made a habit of last season, and take charge — managing to even overshadow Boston’s Jaylen Brown’s career-high 46 points thanks to securing a victory for the home team at the World’s Most Famous Arena to open the season. Regression for Julius Randle is just going to have to wait.