NEW YORK -- Knicks All-Star forward Julius Randle did not play in the fourth quarter of Sunday's 102-93 Game 4 win against the Cleveland Cavaliers and continues to struggle to find an offensive rhythm in the series, but coach Tom Thibodeau said a major reason for Randle's performance is that he is still playing through a left ankle injury he suffered at the end of the regular season.
"Julius is our horse," Thibodeau said after the game, when asked whether he had to speak to Randle about being benched down the stretch given his status on the team. "And he's given us everything that he has. A lot of guys probably wouldn't even be playing. So I knew that with the quick turnaround, probably impact him more than most players.
"He was out an extended amount of time. So we got multiple days here before the next game, he'll get a chance to get some recovery time -- I think that's a big part of it. But the thing I love about him is he gives you everything he has. To come back the way he did, to be ready for Game 1, credit to him. And we need him, he's our horse."
Randle sprained his ankle during a March 29 win over the Miami Heat but rehabbed over the next few weeks and was ready to start Game 1 of this first-round series April 15 in Cleveland. After a solid first half during Game 1 and some good moments in Game 2, Randle has struggled on the offensive end. He is now 21-for-65 over the first four games.
Thibodeau didn't expound on Randle's injury while discussing it Sunday, saying only that he appreciated how hard Randle has worked to get back on the floor.
"The thing is, he had to work around the clock to get back," Thibodeau said. "That's what I love about Julius. He gives you everything that he has. There's 77 games, he sprains his ankle and then he works like crazy to get back, you know how important he is to the team, but to get back, to get ready to play -- our medical people did a great job, but that's all him. He was working around the clock on that, he still is. That's the challenge that we have and that's what I respect about him. And we just got to get ready for our next game."
Knicks guard Jalen Brunson, who poured in a game-high 29 points in Sunday's win and has helped carry the Knicks to a 3-1 lead in the series, echoed Thibodeau's sentiments.
"Julius has been a leader since the day I came here," Brunson said. "What he's able to do while he's either on or off the floor has been incredible, he's been special. All he wants to do is win. And when he has that mindset, it's very contagious. So he's been a leader, and we always got his back. He wants nothing else but to win."
Randle was not in the locker room by the time the media was allowed to enter following Sunday's game.
As the Knicks wait for Randle to round back into form, Brunson wants his team to focus on trying to finish off the series heading into Wednesday's Game 5 in Cleveland.
"It's not over," Brunson said of the series. "It's not even close to being over. We've got to continue to keep focusing on one day at a time. There's nothing to celebrate, there's nothing to be truly happy about. Obviously, we won tonight; we're one step closer but we got to continue to have that same mindset and mentality that we have the past couple games."