You would think that winning the NBA’s Coach of the Year award last year would buy Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau a semblance of a grace period. After all, he helped the Knicks defy the odds last year, nab the No. 4 seed in the Eastern Conference, and make the playoffs for the first time in eight years.
But this is New York — and the proverbial leash has always been 30 feet shorter than a lot of other sports towns.
So naturally, those who were looking to see the Knicks’ boss get canned were able to amplify their arguments by roughly 1,000 decibels after Wednesday night’s epic collapse at Madison Square Garden against the crosstown-rival Brooklyn Nets.
The Knicks led by as many as 28 midway through the second quarter and after a third-quarter bobble, managed to rebuild their advantage to 18 points with 11 minutes to go.
Then they were outscored 38-15 down the stretch in their latest embarrassment — their 13th loss in their last 16 games and the third time in their last 11 games that they squandered a lead of 20 or more points and ultimately lost.
Quite a troubling trend for a team that is already on the outside looking in at the 10-team Eastern Conference playoff picture.
“The fourth is quarter is different. We have to understand the intensity of the fourth quarter,” Thibodeau tried to explain about the late-game issues plaguing his team. “You have to understand that when you have a lead like at it is about control management of the game. When you build a double-digit lead, and it is in the fourth quarter…you’ve got to take care of it. You don’t play recklessly.
We have to be disciplined…The intentions are good we’re just maybe going about it the wrong way. You can’t do it individually. You have to do it collectively. That’s probably the most important thing.”
He has nine days to try and figure this out as the Knicks enter the All-Star break at 25-34 — already three more losses than they had all of last season.
“I wish I had an answer for you,” Knicks forward Julius Randle said. “I feel like we should be better than what we are right now obviously record-wise, but we are not.”
The Knicks are running out of time to find answers, though, and Thibodeau has proven that he is incapable of getting his team there. Now it’s coming down to the classic debate of what’s damaging this team’s chances at competing more: the coach or the players?
“All I think about is winning…I don’t care about any of the nonsense,” Thibodeau said. “I just care about winning; that’s it. So, what’s best for the team every day? Come in and put everything you have into your study, prepare, try to get a good plan together, and try to concentrate on the team’s improvement. Whatever that takes. That is all I’m locked in to.”
Philosophy has to start translating into results, though. Or else an offseason that already is set to feature plenty of change throughout the Knicks’ ranks might see even more.