From Peter Botte:
Fans finally will return to the Garden in limited numbers beginning Tuesday, two nights after the Knicks barely avoided a catastrophic loss against the league’s worst team in their final game in front of an empty arena.
The Knicks flushed a 21-point second-half lead, but they ultimately gave Tom Thibodeau the gift of a victory in his first game against the Timberwolves since he was fired by Minnesota in 2019, eking out a 103-99 win Sunday to open a four-game homestand.
“We’re striving to become a 48-minute team. We’ve got a long way to go, and hopefully we learn from this,” Thibodeau said. “They made up ground quickly on us, but I do like the fact that we kept fighting and we found a way to win the game.
“Ultimately, that’s what’s important is to find a way to win. Whatever we have to do down the stretch to win the game, that’s what we want to focus in on.”
A win is a win is a win is a win, but boy, that was an embarrassing win. The worst team in the NBA (who fired their coach after the game, although it sounds like that was going to happen no matter what. They’ve unusually decided to get a jump on the other teams by hiring one of the hottest coaching prospects, Chris Quinn of the Raptors, midseason and give him a multi-year deal. It’s a clever idea, really) and they blew a 20-point lead on them.
But what was more disconcerting is how Thibs also tightened up the rotation to an absurd degree for the Knicks to eke out a win over a terrible team. I mean, think about it, what is even the point of that? If you need to lean heavily on your starters to eke out a win over a bad team, then you clearly aren’t that great of a team yourself, right? So what is the point of getting that win? It’s the whole “Every game is Game 7 of the NBA Finals” deal we talk about with Thibs all of the time. By playing your starters big minutes, you can win the close games over bad teams, but once you hit the playoffs and all of the teams that don’t do that actually start doing the same thing, you’re stuck at the 10 on the dial. You can’t push it up to 11.
Quickley and Rose had terrible games once again, but Rose played 19 minutes while Quickley didn’t even crack double digits! Obi Toppin, as well, did not crack double digits either, even with Nerlens Noel fouling out. Thibs has his guys and he is going to ride them, even as they blow a 10 point lead in the fourth quarter.
On the good side of things, Randle and Barrett both made some big fourth quarter shots and, fair is fair, Taj Gibson made a big defensive play on Towns late in the fourth. It’s not even that I dislike Taj Gibson. I’ve liked the guy for years. But come on, what does it say about the future of this team that you need 19 minutes of Taj Gibson to avoid losing to a terrible team? That you need all five of your starters to play over minutes (well, Noel would have had he not fouled out)? That you need to play Randle almost 40 minutes?
How is this sustainable? And how it good for the team in the long run? There is so much to be happy about this Knick team for the future. Barrett’s playing pretty well (which is big for a second year player). Quickley has shown a lot of talent. Randle has played like an All-Star. There are a bunch of draft picks coming. The cap is pretty clean. The last thing you need to worry about is whether you can eke out a win over a terrible team at the end of February, and yet…here we are.