While the 4-0 record in the preseason may have provided the Knicks with a sense of confidence, a belief that the revamped roster can live up to the standards set a year ago can still coax hard work from the team.
While Tom Thibodeau has made it clear that he puts the same importance on wins and losses he also has used the four games as a proving ground. He put combinations on the floor to see just what works and what will translate to the regular season. And in the final minutes of the final preseason game Friday night, Thibodeau saw something.
With the Knicks enduring a miserable night for more than three quarters against the Wizards, they fell behind by as many as 19 points. And then Thibodeau threw out a combination on the floor, moving Julius Randle to center, placing Obi Toppin next to him along with RJ Barrett, rookie Quentin Grimes and old hand Derrick Rose.
And suddenly the game turned. The five players on the floor began scrambling, hustling and scoring, pulling out the win in the final second and celebrating like they’d won a playoff game.
"Guys were competing," Barrett said. "That’s what we’re about."
"Very positive," Thibodeau said. "And it’s good to know we have that as part of what we can do and that’s what I like about our team is the versatility of guys playing multiple positions. So, we can give you a completely different look with Julius at the five and Obi at the four. And obviously, offensively, we’re a lot better. But I think we found something, particularly with Quentin in there. I think he gives us another wing defender that is really good."
The Knicks are still searching though. The lineup at the end saved the day, but the starting lineup still struggled together. Kemba Walker and Evan Fournier have yet to find their fit.
"I mean, the second unit played together all year last year," Barrett said. "But everything takes time. We only had four games — three games with Kemba and didn’t have Julius for one. So we really only had two games together. We’re working it out. We’re working through it. But those guys are easy to play with, so easy to play with. They make the game a lot easier. We had a slow start but don’t look too much into that."
"The thing for us, the games are like tests," Thibodeau said. "And so, the things that you’re working on in practice, you want to see what it looks like in a game. So, it tells you something. And then you understand, OK, the intensity level of a preseason game is a lot different than a regular-season game. So I think what the preseason revealed to us is there’s a lot of things that we have to work on to be ready for opening night."