Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau calls a timeout during the...

Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau calls a timeout during the second half of Game 3 against the Pacers in an NBA second-round playoff series Friday in Indianapolis. Credit: AP/Michael Conroy

It’s all the coach’s fault.

It took less than two quarters of really bad basketball on Sunday for a group of alarmist Knicks fans to take to social media and point the finger squarely at Tom Thibodeau. The general refrain is that it’s Thibodeau’s fault that the Knicks came into the game undermanned, hobbled and tired. This, the theory goes, is what the coach gets for playing his starters long minutes all season long.

There are two things wrong with this conclusion: It’s tired and it’s incorrect.

Yes, the Knicks are trying to beat the Pacers without three injured starters — OG Anunoby, Julius Randle and Mitchell Robinson — and Bojan Bogdanovic, their injured top reserve. With the series tied at 2 heading into Tuesday night’s Game 5 at Madison Square Garden, the Knicks need to find a way to bounce back from their 121-89 loss in Game 4, a game in which they trailed by 43 points.

Overcoming adversity is something the Knicks have succeeded in doing all season, and all the hardships finally may be catching up to them. But to blame the current injuries on Thibodeau and his lack of load management just doesn’t ring true.

Anunoby, who will miss his third game with a hamstring injury, is the only one of the injured players to suffer a noncontact muscle injury. Considering that he missed a month down the stretch of the regular season after having bone fragments removed from his right elbow, you really can’t make an argument that he was overused this season.

And the other three? Randle dislocated his right shoulder when he was flipped underneath the basket and crashed awkwardly onto the court in a game against Miami in late January. Bogdanovic suffered a foot injury 28 seconds after entering Game 4 of the Knicks’ first-round series against Philadelphia when Nicolas Batum fell on him while chasing a loose ball. And Robinson, who also was hurt early in the season, exited the playoffs after his left ankle was fallen on by Joel Embiid in the first round.

All of those injuries could have happened whether Thibodeau had his players playing 30 minutes or 40-plus.

Thibodeau now has no choice but to continue to have his top players on the court for major minutes as the Knicks try to win what has turned into a best-of-three series. At least two Knicks — Brunson (foot) and Isaiah Hartenstein (shoulder) — will be playing hurt.

“Everyone has got something. It’s the playoffs,” Thibodeau said after Sunday’s loss. “Got to get through that.”

The playoffs are all about making adjustments, and you really have to give the nod to Pacers coach Rick Carlisle in the way he has defended Brunson the past two games. Carlisle had Aaron Nesmith replace Andrew Nembhard as the primary defender against Brunson in Games 3 and 4. In the first two games of the series, Brunson averaged 36 points and made 56.8% of his shots. In the last two, he averaged 22 points, shot 37.2% from the field and missed nine of his 11 three-point attempts.

Thibodeau’s job between Games 4 and 5 is to come up with some tweaks that might make it a little easier on his players, especially Brunson, who at times in Games 3 and 4 looked exhausted getting to midcourt through Indiana’s full-court pressure. Thibodeau might let someone else — say Donte DiVincenzo or Josh Hart — bring the ball up the court and initiate the offense.

It also would help if the Knicks could get an unexpected scorer such as Deuce McBride to step up and have a big game.

The advantage Thibodeau has is that every player on the team seems to have bought into what he is selling. No one has complained about playing too many minutes. No one has complained about not being able to get a breather. The player who has bought into it most is Brunson, who almost seems as if he has been on a season-long mind meld with his coach.

DiVincenzo said the Knicks just need to “flush what happened” in Game 4 and try to take advantage of playing in front of their home crowd in Game 5. Carlisle also is expecting the Knicks to bounce back and be a challenge.

“New York is a team that has shown that it has an indomitable will to compete and rise above anything people say they can’t do,” he said. “And we’ve seen it throughout the season. We’ve seen it in this series.”

And now Knicks fans are hoping to see it at least two more times.


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