November 27, 2021

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Maybe Tom Thibodeau’s Knicks weren’t that good

New Yorkers fell in love with the Knicks last year for many good reasons. Fans who suffered through two decades of ineffective, disjointed, and devoid of passion received a gift from the basketball gods – a team that reflected the best of the city it represented.

These Knicks were strict, aggressive and opportunistic. Just as the pandemic began to wane for some, the park became a gathering place and celebration for an exercise in selfless achievement. The fans couldn’t even get mad at their team for losing it in the first round of the playoffs, because their team showed a lot of goodwill in getting there.

But today’s Knicks are not the same as yesterday’s Knicks. Fifteen games deep into the season, with Tom Thibodeau trying to figure out how and why last year’s chemistry took such a quick out of town, there’s one point to make:

The 2021-22 Knicks may not be good.

On Wednesday night, they lost a home game to the Orlando Magic for the second time this year. The Magic is the worst team in the Eastern Conference, now 4-11, which means that half of their wins this season have come at Madison Square Garden, where the Knicks have already lost five times. This defeat is 104-98 It was absolutely unforgivable, and Tibodo explained why.

“They played hard,” he said. “We didn’t.”

Derek Rose (right) and Alec Borks argue with an official during the Knicks' 104-98 loss to the Magic.
Derek Rose (right) and Alec Borks argue with an official during the Knicks’ 104-98 loss to the Magic.
Getty Images

Of course, the minimum required of a professional athlete is an all-out effort. More than anything else, Thibodeau teams have been known over the years for their ability to outsmart their opponents, both in practice and on game nights. If this holds true in the gym, it certainly doesn’t happen when the lights are on on Broadway.

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The Knicks made 18 spins, weren’t strong enough on the board, weren’t accurate enough in their 3-point attempts, and lost 33 out of 49. Julius Randle is clearly not the same player he was in. Glory last year, and Thibodeau’s starting unit didn’t get any help from the two-earning scorers over the summer, Kemba Walker and Evan Fournier.

Kimba Walker during the Knicks' loss of magic.
Kimba Walker during the Knicks’ loss of magic.
Robert Sabo

Obi Toppin was an electric and acrobat during 18 minutes of playing time, inspiring park fans to chant his name over and over. So Nick was the only one who could be excused from Thibodeau’s harsh and honest post-game criticism, who didn’t even excuse himself.

“I should do a better job of preparing them,” he said. “This is on me. So I will take a closer look at it.”

as it should. The Knicks should not be 8-7. They shouldn’t go out of bounds left and right, like a high school jayvee, nor should they throw slow end-game passes into the hands of rookie Jalen Suggs, the way veteran veteran Derrick Rose did, leading to killer Wendell Carter Jr. dunk.

The Knicks have now lost six out of nine. If this was some lingering hangover from last season’s adoration, it’s time to get out of it. This is assuming they are able to get out of it.

Choma Okeki dunks for magic against Knicks.
Choma Okeki dunks for magic against Knicks.
Robert Sabo

On paper, the Knicks stand among the league’s deepest. On the ground, that depth doesn’t offer the kind of consistent upscale play needed to land a spot in the post-season, regardless of a playoff series win or two.

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The Knicks are not connected, and they don’t defend like Thibodeau teams are supposed to. “My job is to get them ready,” said Tepes. But then again, the Knicks weren’t willing to beat an inferior opponent on their home ground.

“It falls on me,” said Tibodo.

This wasn’t what the Nicks story was supposed to be about. Thibodeau’s sophomore year was supposed to be the next step in the slow but sure progression to the championship contest. The Knicks made the playoffs in his first season at his dream job, and although the East was strong, a trip to the conference semi-finals this time seemed like a very possible scenario.

Galen Suggs sets a shot against Derek Rose on November 17, 2021.
Galen Suggs sets a shot against Derek Rose on November 17, 2021.
Robert Sabo

But so far it looks like Congress is getting stronger and the Knicks weaker. When the home team needed a hiatus on Wednesday night, they could certainly have had Reggie Bullock and Elfrid Payton on the floor. Their offensive tackle, Fournier and Walker, replaced them combined for 10 points in a 4 for 13 shot. It’s not that they’re just Knicks problems.

“A lot needs to be fixed,” Randell said. “It’s not going well for us right now.”

No it is definitely not.

“Even when we have captains, I just feel the teams are very comfortable for us. Defensive end, I think they just look at us and get into the rhythm,” Randell said.

What happened to the days when teams looked at Thibodeau’s defensive floor and shuddered? Probably nobody is afraid of the Knicks anymore because they don’t play with enough confidence and enough purpose.

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Probably no one is afraid of the Knicks anymore because they are not that good.