It may be natural in an 82-game schedule to have a night as the Knicks did Sunday, when shots didn’t fall, shoulders slumped and the effort and energy that has become a trademark of the team since Tom Thibodeau took over just doesn’t surface.
But if Julius Randle admitted he just didn’t have it that night and one by one other players explained that they, too, saw it, but didn’t know why, there was one person who had the same passion, the same fire, as every other day:Thibodeau
As the Knicks prepared for Tuesday night’s game against the Philadelphia 76ers they could assure themselves that it wouldn’t happen again. But 76ers coach Doc Rivers, who won a championship ring as a head coach in Boston with Thibodeau as one of his top assistants, was sure that Thibodeau would not shortchange any night.
"Thibs is a hell of a coach," Rivers said. "Worked with me for three years, felt like nine, I’m not sure. But he’s just good. He works his butt off. He’s in love with the game of basketball. If every player had that same passion they’d be better players. Same for coaching."
The Knicks turned around their long-struggling franchise last season with the arrival of Thibodeau and a level of preparation and effort that was there almost every game through a condensed season with obstacles that derailed many of the more talented teams along the way. And in the first two games of the season the Knicks lived up to that, fighting Boston through an exhausting double-overtime win on opening night and then pounding a young, inferior Orlando squad two nights later.
But then something was just missing the next time, the Magic arriving at Madison Square Garden with the fire the Knicks usually possess and leaving with a 110-104 victory
"In this league you have to be ready to go," Thibodeau said. "It’s hard to be a 48-minute team. That’s something this team will work at. We have to be ready every night."
"I felt like it was the whole game, but you live and you learn," Derrick Rose said of that performance Sunday. "The first art of war, you show everyone respect. [Sunday], we didn’t come out with the urgency and the intensity that we needed."
That meant watching video Monday and Thibodeau stopping and starting the video to show them where it fell short.
"Yeah, when you’re with Thibs, for sure," Rose said. "But at the same time, when you look at the errors and all that, it’s a time to grow as a team and build chemistry. You see the breakdowns, you see the jogging back and not sprinting back and all that. So next game, it gives you a baseline to see where you’re at and next game, you’ve got to improve on everything that you did wrong."
The Knicks let that game slip away despite holding a double-digit lead early. There was something missing in effort to be sure, but they also just could not find the range from beyond the arc, misfiring on 28 of their last 32 attempts. Kemba Walker struggled to lead the team, Randle had an uncharacteristically sloppy game. But Thibodeau said it was a team effort to fall and a team effort is necessary to get back up.
"it’s easy to try to pin it onto somebody," he said. "We got up 13 and we didn’t take care of the lead there, then we got up in the second half eight, nine points and we didn’t take care of that. We were up six going into the fourth. We just didn’t play the way we were capable of.
"Then what happens is sometimes it comes from a good place in the sense that you want to get us out of the hole. And so then you get too many opportunities where you go one on one. We got into it together, we have to get out of it together and we have to do it together. We have to continue to pass the ball. As I said, we showed the film and we’re saying, when we did this, this is a great shot. If you shoot it well and you’re wide open and no one is in the picture and you miss it, you missed it. That’s it. Get back, play great defense, get it back and let’s go."