Knicks team culture and approach prevails ahead of Game 6 ‘Just lock in’

New York Knicks’ Isaiah Hartenstein, left, dunks the ball in front of Indiana Pacers’ Myles Turner during the first half of Game 5 in an NBA basketball second-round playoff series, Tuesday, May 14, 2024, in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

Knicks Head Coach Tom Thibodeau’s message ahead of pivotal Game 6 against the Pacers in Indianapolis on Friday night is clear, concise, and consistent with New York’s approach all season, only reinforcing the process that has helped New York to this spot.

“The defense, the rebounding, and low turnovers is the key in any game,” said Thibodeau. “Last game has nothing to do with this game. We have to understand that and then we have to be ready to go on the road and we have to play tough for 48 minutes.”

This series has been a five-game-long chess match between Thibodeau and Pacers head coach Rick Carlisle, two veteran coaches who have made adjustments and wrinkles to the game plan between each game. New York threw the first two punches of the series, defending their home court behind dominant performances from Jalen Brunson, who is currently averaging 32 points per game in the series.

After struggling for two games in Indiana, New York responded with a dominant 32-point win in Game 5 to put the Knicks on the precipice of a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals.

“I think the important thing is not to get lost in the hyperbole, and be distracted and lock into winning the game. Just focus on the task at hand which is to win the game. So don’t get sidetracked, just lock in,” said Thibodeau.

Tom Thibodeau of the Knicks
New York Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau reacts in the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Los Angeles Clippers, Saturday, Feb. 4, 2023, at Madison Square Garden in New York. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

Doing whatever is necessary to win is nothing new for this Knicks team. It’s what they have been doing all season long. When they have been without their top stars and depleted by injuries, the culture of the team has prevailed time after time. Whether it’s Thibodeau, Brunson, or any role player who has stepped up at various points, the unified approach is apparent up and down the roster.

“We have a lot of guys that have that mindset throughout their entire career,” said Brunson. “To all be together and to have it naturally and to have a coach who wants us to feel that way as well. Just to go out there and play as hard as you can and focus on the next play regardless of what happens… it’s just a natural feeling to know we all have that mindset.”

Top-to-bottom from roster construction and team culture, this feels like the team Knicks fans have been waiting for. A team that embodies the blue-collar mindset of New York and will go down swinging. It’s not a coincidence the Knicks are 5-1 on their home court in the playoffs so far, something that will be crucial if they continue to advance. 

Although New York is hopeful they do not have to play another game at home in this series, Thibodeau and his team have their sights set on ending this series on Friday. 

“Sometimes you hit a wall and you have to bounce back,” said Thibodeau. “How you respond to that is important. We know we’ll be tested in a different way so get ready for the next one. I don’t want us looking backward, I want us looking ahead, be ready for this next game.”