Tom Thibodeau isn’t going to celebrate. Not when there are still games to be played, opponents to get ready for and a million little contingencies to weigh.
That’s the message he seemed to impress upon his Knicks before their first game since clinching a trip to the playoffs.
The Knicks held a short celebration on FaceTime Wednesday night after a Boston loss assured them of a postseason berth.
Then they returned to work Thursday night with a 102-98 win over the Spurs that kept their hopes for a No. 4 playoff seed alive.
The Knicks, back from a six-game road trip, managed to dig themselves out of a 17-point deficit and then hang on for the win.
"There was a concern coming off a long road trip," Thibodeau said. "The turnaround for us, just keep fighting, find a way to win. We got down big in the second half and came back."
The Knicks were playing with one eye on the scoreboard and they knew they needed this win.
"People who say they aren’t watching are liars" said Julius Randle, who had 25 points and nine rebounds.
The two teams they were watching were Atlanta and Miami, who both won big. The Knicks (39-31) knew they needed to win to still have a shot at the fourth seed. Right now, they are in sixth place with the same record as the Heat because of the tiebreaker situation. Atlanta remains in fourth place, a half-game ahead.
As it stands, the Knicks would face the Bucks in the first round. If the Knicks could get the fourth seed, they would not only have homecourt advantage but would avoid playing top seeds Philadelphia, the Nets and the Bucks in the first round.
Alec Burks came off the bench to lead all Knicks scorers with 30 points and 10 rebounds. That included hitting two free throws with 7.7 seconds left. RJ Barrett added 24 points, including two free throws with 1.8 seconds left. He was 5-for-9 on threes.
San Antonio was led by DeMar DeRozan’s 26 points.
No matter whom the Knicks end up playing the first round of the playoffs, the fact they got there at all is remarkable considering the team was 21-45 last season under coach David Fizdale and interim coach Mike Miller.
Remarkable, but not surprising, according to San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich.
"Those of us who know him are kind of laughing, but laughing with huge respect," Popovich said of Thibodeau. "You know it was going to happen. He was going to grab that group, challenge them, establish standards and hold them accountable and the defensive end. It just makes you smile."
Well, it makes almost everyone other than Thibodeau smile as he spent most of his pregame news conference talking about taking things "one step at a time."
Yet it was clear he thinks the team is headed in the right direction.
"We had a new staff and a lot of new guys. You have to get everyone on to the same page as quickly as possible. That was the challenge for all of us," he said. "Julius \[Randle\] set the tone for it. Our veteran leadership was off the charts. Our young guys were terrific. They brought great energy every day. I think that invigorated our veterans. They saw the energy and willingness to learn and grow and how important it was.
"It’s been a really good group to be around each and every day. The important thing is not to lose our focus."
Notes & quotes: Derrick Rose was a late scratch for Thursday’s game, but Thibodeau said it was just a matter of giving his ankle some rest. Thibodeau said he tweaked his ankle, but is "day to day."