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The famous Garden pinwheeled ceiling sprung a leak as rain pounded the roof Sunday night, causing a 14-minute delay.
And for an uncharacteristicly long segment of the second half, the Knicks defense sprung a leak, too. After going up by 18 points early in the third quarter, the Knicks couldn’t do a thing right as the Raptors put together a 40-15 run, taking a five-point lead midway through the fourth quarter.
But this is the new Knicks, in a new era. Before they could choke the game away, they rose up late and survived a brutal and ugly 102-96 decision over Toronto to break a nine-game losing streak against the Raptors.
“We found a way at the end,’’ Tom Thibodeau said. “I like we have the mental toughness to work our way through it and pull it out in the end. But I think we’re capable of playing better than we did today.”
More importantly, the Knicks probably sealed a spot in the play-in tournament. They moved six games in front of the Raptors, who are in 11th place. The top 10 teams will either qualify for the play-in or for a playoff berth.
The Knicks couldn’t have done any worse offensively in the second half, at one juncture missing 15 of 17 shots, flummoxed by the Toronto zone. There was no teamwork, nor flow.
“There’s a tendency when you go through that — we have guys who want to do what’s best for the team — but you have to do it collectively and not get out of it by yourself,’’ Thibodeau said. “If you go too much one-on-one, it will hurt you.’’
But when you play enough defense — as the Knicks have done all season — you can win any contest. The Lakers might find that out Monday when they pay their lone visit.
Center Nerlens Noel recorded four blocks. Reggie Bullock had three steals. RJ Barrett banged in another big 3 and Julius Randle hit clutch free throws in the final seconds to get the Knicks back to .500.
This should have been a lot easier but the Knicks aren’t built for easy. Barrett said he was still “excited’’ with the win no matter how it looked.
“What I’ve learned, being in the NBA,’’ Barrett said, “is it’s a long game. Anything can happen.”
Toronto’s first possession of the night was snuffed by Bullock, who intercepted a pass and glided in for a layup. The last possession of the first quarter ended with Bullock double-teaming Pascal Siakam, ripping the ball away and going in for another layup.
The first quarter ended Knicks 24, Raptors 16. Toronto wasn’t in Cleveland anymore. The night before the Raptors had rung up 47 first-quarter points.
Welcome to Tom Thibodeau’s Garden of Defense.
By halftime, the Knicks led 56-42. The Raptors shot 31 percent. The Knicks were making a statement — even though it got a little muddied in the rain in the second half.
Sunday was the third anniversary of Thibodeau’s Timberwolves breaking a 14-year playoff drought.
Ironically, the Wolves’ star rookie and No. 1-overall pick Anthony Edwards probably wouldn’t mind playing for Thibodeau judging from his comments Friday about the Knicks’ defense.
Edwards, the favorite for rookie of the year, was asked how the Wolves can become a better defensive team.
Unsolicited, he sounded like a sage in citing Thibodeau’s Knicks, flooding them with praise. The defensive statistics show the major progression but it’s more significant to hear Edwards — with no preconceived biases — laud the Knicks the way he did.
“If you give effort, you got great defense,’’ Edwards said. “If you watch New York night in and night out, they don’t have great single defenders. Whatever their defensive game plan is, that’s great. They play great defense as a team at all times. I love watching them play defense. I feel they’re the best defensive team in the league. They play hard. They take you out of your stuff and pressure you.”
Even during the Knicks’ recent 1-5 slide, nobody faulted their defense. In those five losses, the Knicks allowed just 102 points per game.
Thibodeau may never win one of those NBA coach-of-the-month awards, but it’s not like March winner Nate McMillan of red-hot Atlanta is getting referenced on “Saturday Night Live” — as Thibodeau was this weekend. To be fair, SNL cast members have been fixtures on celebrity row across the years, but this wasn’t payback.
During a parody rap song, called “Weird Little Flute,” Kid Cudi and Pete Davidson versed: “Learning can be difficult … So I practice hard like Thibodeau … And the only time that I get real high … Is when I play my piccolo.’’
Utah’s Quin Snyder is not getting that SNL love anytime soon.
“He pushes me every single day,’’ Knicks rookie Obi Toppin said before the game. “He challenges me every single day to be better, not just offensively but definitely defensively.’’
It would be shocking for the Knicks to collapse now and fall out the play-in tournament and into 11th place.
Because their style is built all on defense (they allow the least points in the league at 104.5 per game), it’s not a club prone to a massive slide.
There were major concerns regarding their offensive prowess in the second half and Alec Burks’ late turnover with a two-point lead could’ve been egregious if not for Siakam’s ensuing double-dribble. A little luck. A lot of defense.
Thibodeau looked to be agitated for much of the evening but did crack one smile when talking about the rain delay.
“I thought it was baseball,’’ he said.
This story originally appeared on: NyPost - Author:Marc Berman