When the first test for Tom Thibodeau’s Knicks was over, the coach already was looking ahead, with practice 12 hours and about 1,000 miles away and lessons to be learned.
"Each situation you learn from," Thibodeau said after the Knicks’ 121-107 loss to the Pacers in Indiana on Wednesday night. "So you either win or you learn."
What Thibodeau may have learned in that first game is that the Knicks may face a lot of lessons this season.
The Knicks led for much of the first half and took a 66-61 lead into the intermission. But in the second half, while Indiana continued to score in bunches, the Knicks’ offense reverted to the mean, with the sharpshooting of the first half fading into the night.
Heading into the opener, Thibodeau and his team repeatedly spoke about the need to defend every night to have a chance. Then the Knicks allowed 121 points to a Pacers squad that included a star trying to find his way back in Victor Oladipo and one who was making his debut after missing the preseason in T.J. Warren.
Even with the second-half collapse, the Knicks shot 42.9% from three-point range as a team, a pace they have given little indication they will continue. They shot 30.2% from long range in the four preseason games.
"To win on the road, you always talk about the defense, the rebounding and keeping your turnovers down," Thibodeau said. "And so the way we played offensively in the first half is the way we need to continue to play. I thought we played about 24 minutes of good basketball, and to win on the road, you have to do a lot better than that. So we’ll learn from it, get better, make some corrections."
"I think they played harder in the second half," RJ Barrett said. "I think we had a good first half overall and they came out even more aggressive in the second.
"I think they did something different defensively with all of our actions. They made really good adjustments at halftime. We’ve got to play basketball. We’ll know for the next game."
The task won’t get easier Saturday when the Knicks face the Philadelphia 76ers in their home opener at Madison Square Garden.
The problems were inside, where Mitchell Robinson and Nerlens Noel got into early foul trouble, and on the perimeter, as rookie point guard Immanuel Quickley was knocked out of action late in the first half with a hip pointer. He didn’t return and likely will not play Saturday.
"Probably a compilation of things," Thibodeau said of the defensive troubles. "Control of the ball, challenging shots, finishing the defense with the challenge and then of course the rebound. And when you’re small, you’ve got to hit people and you’ve got to fight for the ball. We were a little slow reacting to the ball.
"It’s something that we’ll take a look at it. Our guards are going to have to rebound better and our bigs are going to have to put their bodies on people. And so, as I said, we couldn’t get Mitchell untracked, and that’s something we have to continue to work on. He’s been terrific in practice. We’ll take a look at how we can get him to improve to concentrate on body position and that sort of thing, and verticality and playing with his hands up. He’s a work in progress, but he’s got a big upside."
Notes & quotes: Quickley (sore left hip) and Obi Toppin (sore left calf) are listed as doubtful. Austin Rivers (sore groin) and Omari Spellman (sore right knee) are out.