Tom Thibodeau gets great birthday present with Knicks: ‘That’s where the enjoyment comes from, people working together

Knicks Tom Thibodeau
New York Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau gives his team instructions during a time out in the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Houston Rockets, Wednesday, Jan. 17, 2024, at Madison Square Garden in New York. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

The New York Knicks are without a doubt one of the hottest teams in the NBA right now. Julius Randle is throwing no-look passes on fast breaks, the team continues to jell more and more with new addition OG Anunoby, and head coach Tom Thibodeau is even smiling in post-game press conferences.

The vibes in New York are nearing all-time highs.

“I can think of no better way to celebrate a birthday than being around a bunch of people who care about the game,” Thibodeau said following the Knicks’ 109-94 victory over the Houston Rockets. “That’s where the enjoyment comes from, people working together… so you know, great birthday.”

Thibodeau, who celebrated his 66th birthday Wednesday night, has instilled a winning formula since acquiring Anunoby. The Knicks are the top team in the NBA in terms of defensive rating, a sign that New York is beginning to garner a defensive-first mentality, a staple of Thibodeau’s best teams. 

New York’s net rating over the last nine games is the second-best in the NBA at 13.3, showing how the offense and defense have come together with Anunoby.

“He’s a defensive unit unto himself,” Thibodeau.

The minutes have also significantly increased for Anunoby recently, playing 43-plus minutes in the last two games. This shows that Anunoby not only has earned those minutes, but he is now an essential piece to the Knicks’ scheme as a whole.

Individually, Anunoby has had a defensive renaissance, touting an individual defensive rating of 98.5, the best among all Knicks who have played the last nine games. 

OG Anunoby Knicks
New York Knicks forward OG Anunoby (8) defends Chicago Bulls forward DeMar DeRozan (11) during the first half of an NBA basketball game in New York, Wednesday, Jan. 3, 2024. (AP Photo/Peter K. Afriyie)

It is no secret the Knicks have gotten away from their defensive identity and relied on an outburst of offense in previous seasons under Thibodeau. While that has garnered results in the regular season, it has shown not to be sustainable in the playoffs where the defense wins championships. 

Now, the Knicks have gotten back to a defensive first identity, much to the pleasure of Thibodeau.

“When you start factoring in what Isaiah [Hartenstein] is giving us, and also Deuce [McBride] is an elite defender,” Thibodeau said. “And Josh [Hart] is very disruptive, Dante [DiVincenzo] is also disruptive, and Quentin [Grimes] is disruptive. So we’ve got a good balance that we’re using.”

While the Knicks have not played the top teams in the NBA over this nine-game stretch, it has given them time to figure out their identity as a team. The arrival of Anunoby signaled a greater focus on the defensive side that will hopefully carry into the postseason.

The Knicks are trying a new approach this year and are looking to plug the gaps that have plagued them in the postseason’s past. With the arrival of Anunoby and more moves seemingly on the horizon to bolster the roster, the Knicks have the potential to become a serious threat in the postseason. 

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