By Lenn Robbins
This may never make it on to the Mount Rushmore of coaching quotes alongside Lombardi’s, “It’s not whether you get knock down, it’s whether you get up,” but maybe it should be. Maybe what new Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said after his team’s 113-108 win over the Atlanta Hawks is such an indisputable truth that it should be placed in every basketball locker room.
“The big thing,” new Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said, “is if you defend and you rebound and you take care of the ball, you’re going to be in position to win.”
Knicks fans have seen this truth played out in Oakland, San Antonio, Detroit and everywhere LeBron James has played. They just haven’t seen it played out in The Garden over the last two decades.
The early return on the Tibs-coached Knicks is exactly what was hoped for. They play defense; 6th in scoring defense, allowing 105.1 points. They rebound; 9th at 2.7 rebounds differential. They protect the ball; +4.5 in turnover differential.
They are 4-3, above .500 after the first seven games since the 2012-13 season. It is a team that plays with purpose.
“We trust him,” forward Julius Randle said. “He has a real plan for us, he makes sure we’re prepared and he puts us in the best possible position to win every game we play. We trust him and he trusts us.”
Please sit: Knicks and trust in the same sentence.
There is, of course, a long season to go. Thibodeau’s demanding style can grate on some players, especially if the won-loss record goes sideways, but long-suffering Knicks fans deserve to live in this moment.
The Knicks are not the NBA’s punchline. After allowing 121 points in the season-opening loss to the Pacers, the Knicks haven’t allowed 110 points in a loss over the last six games.
Immanuel Quickley hasn’t played a ton but it wouldn’t be surprising to see him on the All-Rookie team at the end of the season. Randle is playing perhaps the best two-way ball of his career. RJ Barrett (18.3 points, 7.6 rebounds, 3.7 assists) has shown marked improvement from his rookie season (14.3, 5.0, 2.6) and could be developing into that franchise foundation piece.
No one who has agonized over the Knicks for their adult lives is ready to exhale. There is the Rookie Wall that Quickley will face at some point. Barrett must show he can continue this play for an entire season. At some point the Knicks might get a no-brainer offer for Randle that will accelerate the building process they will have to take it.
But watching the Knicks is no longer worse than watching late-night infomercials. Tibs is getting his message across.
“I think the togetherness is a big part of it,” he told reporters after the Atlanta win. “I think the willingness to share the ball, to play hard for each other, [but] it starts with our defense and the rebounding. We still have to get our turnovers down but I think just the overall way they’re playing for each other. I think that’s a big part of winning. They come in and they work every day.”
That’s all Knicks fans have been asking for – for now.