New York Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau directs his team...

New York Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau directs his team against the Milwaukee Bucks during the first half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2022, in New York. (AP Photo/Adam Hunger) Credit: AP/Adam Hunger

TORONTO

Not long ago, it might have seemed a less-than-even chance that Tom Thibodeau still would be on the Knicks' bench  on Friday night. He endured nearly a year of rumors and whispers inside and outside of the organization that his tenure could come to an abrupt end amid the team’s struggles.

But instead, there he was Friday,  steering the team to a fourth consecutive win — the Knicks' 12th in the last 17 games, with odd streaks of eight straight wins followed by five consecutive losses and now back on the winning track. They moved to 22-18, good enough for sixth place in the Eastern Conference. Perhaps more impressive, Thibodeau had endured long enough to reach 100 victories in New York. 

“I'm glad to be a part of all 100. Thibs has come in here and created a great culture for all of us,” said Julius Randle, one of the few players who have been around for all of them. “He’s been amazing. The support, holding us accountable, the belief for us to win every night. I’m happy for him. We’ve got to get him another hundred.”

Thibodeau became only the eighth coach in franchise history to reach 100 wins, perhaps with good reason. The seat is always hot at Madison Square Garden.

While Red Holzman has his number of victories — 613 — hanging in the rafters alongside the team's only two championship banners, mostly the coaches are left to try to survive. If Thibodeau — who is eighth in games coached with 194 — can make it to next season, he will join seven coaches who have been on board for even parts of four seasons.

“It’s big time,” Jalen Brunson said. “Coach puts us in positions to be successful. He helps prepare us for games. He’s a workhorse. He loves this game. So it’s only right for us to go out there and try to give our all every time on the court for him. A lot of respect for him, congrats for him, but I think we can do a lot more.”

Brunson, who arrived this season, has known Thibodeau since the point guard was a small child, but his point that the Knicks can do a lot more is not lost on a fan base that litters social media with "fire Thibs'' hashtags. There is criticism of the minutes allocation, with fans pleading for Obi Toppin to get more time, but Thibodeau has ridden Randle to an All-Star level again. 

And despite the critiques, Thibodeau has trusted some of the young players — inserting Quentin Grimes as a starter in his second season and giving huge minutes to Immanuel Quickley and Miles McBride. What Thibodeau has mostly done after the struggles of last season and early this season is do it his way — putting players in the rotation who come with a defense-first mindset to surround Randle, Brunson and RJ Barrett.

“He’s meant a lot,” Grimes said. “[I’m] just a guy that had to come in and had to earn everything. Nothing was handed to me,  and that’s how I wanted it to be. And once you earn a guy’s trust like that, it’s kind of sky’s the limit. If he can trust guys like me, thankfully, I gotta just keep working. For him to trust in guys, coming in they said he didn’t really trust rookies, and for my confidence, just knowing I got trust from a guy like that, when I had to really earn it from Day One. So for me, I’m happy that he got his 100th win.”

Play on

One thing Thibodeau has always done is give minutes to the players whom he relies on most, and on Friday, he broke from his usual rotation patterns and played Randle for the first 16 minutes of the game.

“That’s a first for me,” said Randle, who scored 19 points in the first quarter. “I’m rolling — whatever Thibs needs, I’m rolling with it. Need to get some wins.”

Asked if they had a conversation about the change, Randle said it was very brief.

“Thibs came to me at the end of the first quarter and said, ‘Play a few more minutes?’ I said, of course. This is what you train hard for in the summer, taking care of your body throughout the season. For these type of moments here, so I was fine.”

Roster news

With Saturday the deadline to make a decision, the Knicks retained Ryan Arcidiacano and Svi Mykhailiuk, guaranteeing their contracts for the remainder of the season. The Knicks are at the roster limit. Teams could begin signing players to 10-day contracts this past Thursday.

Mitchell Robinson highlights?

Since his rookie season, Mitchell Robinson has spoken about skills that he has, even posting some on social media, but has not put them on display in games. He did break them out this past week,  to less-than-highlight-worthy results.

On Wednesday, he attempted only his fifth career shot from outside of 10 feet, launching a step-back jumper from the foul line as time expired on the shot clock. It never came close to reaching the rim. His grade for it?

"A 10,” he said.” I’m a regular 10, even though I got the ball with only two, three seconds [on the shot clock].”

In the previous game, he executed a crossover, through-the-legs dribble that again was, to be polite, odd. He lifted his leg to get the ball through.

“That one broke my scale,” Robinson said. “No, no, no, never mind, never mind. I’m gonna take that back. I’m gonna say about a eight, because I know I can do it. They didn’t know I could do it. You know what I’m saying? Yeah, it ain’t nothing new to me. I do it all the time when I’m back in New Orleans. Y’all seen my videos.”

So what’s next?

“Hell if I know,” he said. “Whatever is open.”

WINNINGEST COACHES

Knicks coaches with 100 or more victories:

613    Red Holzman (1968-77, 1979-82)

466    Joe Lapchick (1948-56)

248    Jeff Van Gundy (1996-02)

223    Pat Riley (1992-95)

121    Mike D'Antoni (2009-12)

142    Hubie Brown (1983-87)

109    Mike Woodson ( 2012-14)

100    Tom Thibodeau (2021-23)

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