Julius Randle celebrated his 28th birthday in style as he dropped 36 points on the New York Knicks' best shooting night of the season to hammer the Detroit Pistons 140-110.
Randle's 36 points sets a new season-high for the 2021 All-NBA selection, kicking off his night with the first quarter of his career with at least five three-pointers, before finishing 14-of-24 from the field and six-of-13 from deep.
Averaging 24.3 assists per game to sit 18th in the league, the Knicks dished 31 dimes en route to setting their new season-best mark of 45.7 per cent shooting from long-range, hitting 16 of their 35 total attempts.
The win on the first game of their road trip snaps a two-game losing streak for the Knicks, and Randle said he was determined to make his birthday a great night for the whole squad.
"The road is usually where teams come together," he said. "That's what we do, so I'm just trying to lead by example and play with energy, play with effort, and do whatever I can do help this team win.
"It was flowing. Anytime we get stops we can get out in transition and get easy buckets, and offensively we're starting to move without the ball. It's good.
"It's always what the defense gives me. Naturally, I'm going to be aggressive, but I was just locked in and taking the shots they were giving me."
Birthday boy threw himself A PARTY tonight pic.twitter.com/egguXisXcB— NEW YORK KNICKS (@nyknicks) November 30, 2022
When asked if he can sense a big game like this in the hours leading up to the contest, Randle admitted he had a feeling this one was going to go well.
"Sometimes [I can tell]," he said. "I could tell today a little bit. I was just locked in, felt good by myself and how my body was feeling. We've got to follow it up tomorrow."
After Randle's career-best 2020-21 campaign, there were concerns this past season that he had regressed and that perhaps his great year was an outlier, with his true shooting percentage dipping from 56.7 to 50.9 – his lowest figure since the 2015-16 season.
He started slow again this time around, but quickly figured things out, putting up 21.5 points per game with strong splits of 47.4 per cent from the field, 35.4 per cent from deep on 6.9 attempts per game, and 80.4 per cent from the free throw line during November.
It has resulted in his true shooting percentage – which weights three-pointers and free throws to produce one figure – jumping back up to a 58.4 per cent, and coach Tom Thibodeau said it is no surprise.
"He's been doing it for a while now," he said. "Offensively, we're scoring a ton of points, I think we're top-10 in scoring.
"We're scoring in the paint, guys are sharing it, making plays, getting to the line a lot. I like where we are offensively, and I thought our rebounding was really good tonight. We just have to keep building."
Veteran guard Derrick Rose added: "Of course, with it being his birthday, we knew when he first came out how the game was going to go.
"He forced his will on the team, and everybody else had to follow. That's normally what happens when leaders lead."
The Knicks are now 10-11, and if they can just figure out how to fix their 24th-ranked defense, their 10th-ranked offense is potent enough to flirt with the playoffs.