New York Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau doesn’t believe in small victories or taking a moment to enjoy the fruits of his labor during the overwhelming task of trying to rebuild one of the most dysfunctional franchises in the NBA.
That mindset was put clearly on display during the Knicks’ blowout victory over the Washington Wizards on Tuesday night when — despite leading by 20 at the half and 30 in the third quarter — Thibodeau coached the ferocity of a two-point game with a minute to go.
He played Julius Randle, who poured in 37 points, for 38 minutes and RJ Barrett for 39, very obviously not taking his foot off the gas pedal as his team easily improved to 22-22 on the season with the 131-113 triumph.
“You see it all the time with the way teams shoot threes and the way that team scores, you can’t mess around with the game,” Thibodeau said of a Wizards team that features stars in Bradley Beal and Russell Westbrook. “We need to work on finishing, so that’s what we did.”
But then came the true revelation.
“We’re striving to be a 48-minute team and we’re still not there,” he said. “It’s something we have to continue to work towards.”
The tireless, relentless philosophy is what’s fueling the Knicks to exceed all expectations this season to hover near the .500 mark despite having a largely similar roster that was one of the very worst in the NBA last season. Thibodeau is meticulous, placing utmost importance on even the mundane, not-seen aspects of the game; the perfect idealogy to overturn a toxic culture that has seen the Knicks wallow as a laughing stock in the NBA for the better part of two decades.
“Everything matters,” he said. “How you practice, how you concentrate in film sessions, the team meetings. How you script your plays, how you go over what your opponents’ strengths and weaknesses are.”
That’s why with the Knicks cruising in the fourth quarter, Thibodeau got on his squad a bit midway through the frame when they started to let up a bit — or at least it looked that way.
“You want to learn and every game is going to teach you things, show you the things you’re doing well and not doing as well as you’d like,” Thibodeau said. “What we’re doing every day is try to concentrate on playing our best at the end and you need everyone to buy into that, giving everything they have every day, sacrificing for the team, putting the team first and then you get better little by little. When you look back, you’ve made a quantum leap.
“That’s what we’re striving toward. There are so many different aspects of it. How you start a game, how you close quarters, how you finish games. The big thing is not to skip over stuff.”
Message received, especially with a rematch against the Wizards awaiting on Thursday night, again at Madison Square Garden (7:30 p.m. ET).