The Knicks saw their defense, the staple of any Tom Thibodeau-coached team, struggle this season through the first 13 games. They ranked fourth in the NBA in defensive rating last season, but they entered Monday’s 92-84 win over Indiana ranked 26th. They were 21st in points allowed per game.
It may be selective sampling, but Thibodeau is focused on opponents’ field-goal percentage, a stat in which the Knicks ranked sixth entering Monday’s game.
"The big thing is you’ve got to be strong on both sides of the ball," he said. "I told you the big number for me is the field-goal percentage. That’s the one I look at. And keeping the ball out of the paint, we’re top five. The rebounding, giving up second-chance points, that could be better. So there’s things that we have to do better. Obviously, we’ve got to work at it. And there’s a lot of work to be done."
Asked what has led to one particularly troubling stat — opponents’ three-point field goals made per game, in which the Knicks rank last in the league — he searched for an explanation.
"It’s probably a combination of things,’’ he said. "We’re playing teams that shoot a lot of threes, too. We played Milwaukee twice. That’s part of it, too. So we look at who are the teams? Are you keeping them below your averages? That’s an important factor."
Nerlens Noel, who has played only four games this season, again was sidelined.
Mitchell Robinson was in the starting lineup but departed in the third quarter and was ruled out for the rest of the game with a sore left ankle.
"He’s still working his way through it," Thibodeau said. Obviously, he was out a long period of time. He’s a work in progress in terms of conditioning. He’s banged up a little bit. That’s all normal. If you’re a pro athlete, that’s what happens."
Thibodeau went with Taj Gibson for long stretches and even went with the small-ball lineup with Julius Randle and Obi Toppin in the fourth quarter.