You might think Tom Thibodeau would be tempted to take full advantage of a game like the one the Knicks played Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden, a game in which they led by 20 by the end of the
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You might think Tom Thibodeau would be tempted to take full advantage of a game like the one the Knicks played Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden, a game in which they led by 20 by the end of the first half and by 30 midway through the third quarter, a game that might’ve been mercy-ruled if such legislation existed.
You might think the Knicks’ coach, who sees his team play so many close games, who demands maximum effort every minute of those games, might see a game like this 131-113 breeze over the Wizards as an opportunity to give guys like Julius Randle and RJ Barrett the equivalent of some lieu time, let the walk-ons play, maybe have a seat for himself, take a deep breath or three, chill.
You might th— …
Um … never mind. It’s hard to type any of that with a straight face. We have seen Thibodeau’s work from a distance for a decade and up close for 44 games now, which is more than enough to understand that this is part of the Thibodeau tapestry. There are no nights off. There are no possessions off. There is no garbage time. Not by choice.
“We’re striving to be a 48-minute team,” Thibodeau said when the drubbing of Washington was complete, and he takes that sentence as seriously as a tax audit.
He leans on the guys he trusts, asks them to lean on each other, demands that they run through the tape, even if the other guy waves a white flag (neither Russell Westbrook nor Bradley Beal played a second of the fourth quarter for the Wizards). It sometimes drives the cognoscenti of social media to distraction, but that’s who he is. That’s always been who he is.
That’s how he coaches. And when a coach does as much good as Thibodeau has done — and it’s hard to remember a Knicks coach, even Pat Riley, who had such a profound impact in his first 44 games on the job — you accept the quirks that go with it.
He wouldn’t call them quirks, of course.
He’d call them standards.
“You want to learn,” Thibodeau said, “and every game will teach you things, show you the things you’re doing well and not doing as well as you’d like. What we’re doing every day is concentrating on playing our best at the end and you need everyone to buy in, sacrificing for the team, putting the team first. You look back and you’ve made a quantum leap.”
Maybe the circumference of Thibodeau’s circle of trust isn’t terribly wide, but he’s willing to grow it. Jimmy Butler hardly played his rookie year. Young players like Joakim Noah and Luol Deng — and, recently Barrett — have developed significantly on his watch. He’d just rather work out the kinks of that development in practice, if possible, than games.
So there are no sympathy minutes for Kevin Knox or Obi Toppin. There are no quarters off for Randle or Barrett. It’s like he channels Frank Galvin from “The Verdict”:
“There are no other cases, this is the case.”
There are no other games. This is the game.
“There’s so many different aspects you work on,” he said. “How you start a game. How you close quarters. How you finish the game. Don’t skip over stuff. Everything matters: practice, concentrating in team meetings, schemes …”
Yes. When you hire Thibodeau, you hire all of Thibodeau. You hire a coach who believes what he believes, even if he knows better than anyone that he lost his best shot at a title back in 2012 when Derrick Rose hurt his knee after a playoff win over the Sixers was already salted away.
Funny thing, though: Rose has never once questioned if Thibodeau had put his career at risk by keeping him in a safe game, and in fact follows him around the league the way Deadheads used to follow Jerry Garcia. If you exist in Thibodeau’s circle of trust, thrive in it, you tend to view the game through the same prism.
Of course you keep working until the final buzzer. Of course you keep playing until the end. Of course you ignore the Minutes Police. There is no other way. This is the way.
This story originally appeared on: NyPost - Author:Mike Vaccaro