With 1:36 minutes left against the Brooklyn Nets, New York Knicks power forward Julius Randle drew a technical foul, providing Kevin Durant with a chance to extend Brooklyn’s lead to three points.

That decision made a comeback for the Knicks even more unlikely, changing their strategy down the stretch and forcing them to settle for a two point shot. About 50 seconds later, Randle converted on a dunk, but due to the technical foul, the Knicks were still down one point. Durant drew a shooting foul from Randle seconds later, hitting both free throws, giving them a three point advantage.

As you can see, there is a similar trend throughout the final moments of the game, Randle making poor decisions which led to a loss. That didn’t change against the Chicago Bulls in the waning moments on Thursday, as New York fell by just four points after mounting a 21-point comeback in the second half. Playing in 39 minutes, Randle was gassed, but that doesn’t excuse a turnover with 56 seconds remaining, allowing the Bulls to convert two free throws and force the Knicks into another disadvantage.

In two consecutive games, Julius hurt his team down the stretch with poor decision making and a lack of awareness. This brings us to the final puzzle piece Tom Thibodeau’s squad desperately needs.

What the Knicks need to make the jump to the next level:

The Knicks need a closer, a player they can lean on to finish off games and mount momentum instead of burying them further in the loss column. The Knicks now sit at .500 on the season, watching DeMar DeRozan and Kevin Durant put them away with ease the past two games.

Randle hasn’t been able to find himself on the other end of that equation, which was still a frequent occurrence during the 2020–21 season, his breakout campaign.

The Knicks could acquire a superstar at the trade deadline, but making a shift of that magnitude mid-season is unlikely. In fact, it may spark another debate next off-season that New York needs to bring in another star to pair with Randle, someone who can take the pressure off and give him peace of mind in big moments. In the loss to Chicago, Randle hit just 2-of-5 free throws, missing several down the stretch to go with seven total turnovers, his highest mark of the season.

If Thibodeau wants his team to take the next step, his best player can’t be giving the ball away at such an absurd rate. Despite scoring 30 points, he did enough damage on his own to give the Bulls an advantage.

Most fans have already come to the conclusion that Randle needs a partner in crime, arguably an even better player to help him reach his potential. Force-feeding him clutch moments and opportunities hasn’t seemed to help him get over the hump, and playing second fiddle to a legitimate superstar is not a bad thing if the team is winning at an elevated rate.

This article first appeared on Empire Sports Media and was syndicated with permission.

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