Knicks may have a sealed playoff berth


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The garden’s famous molded ceiling leaked as rain pounded the roof on Sunday night, causing a 14-minute delay.

And for an unusually long segment of the second half, the Knicks’ defense also leaked. After climbing 18 points early in the third quarter, the Knicks could not do well as the Raptors went on to go 40-15 inning, taking a five-point lead midway through the fourth quarter.

But these are the new Knicks, in a new era. Before they could stifle the game, they got up late and survived a brutal and ugly 102-96 decision over Toronto to break a nine-game streak against the Raptors.

“We found a way at the end,” said Tom Thibodeau. “I like that we have the mental strength to work our way and pull it back at the end. But I think we are able to play better than today.

More importantly, the Knicks likely sealed a spot in the play-in tournament. They moved six games past the Raptors, who are in 11th place. The 10 best teams will qualify either for the play-in or for the playoffs.

The Knicks could not have done worse offensively in the second half, missing 15 of 17 shots at one point, baffled by the Toronto zone. There was no teamwork, no flow.

“There is a tendency when you go through this – we have guys who want to do what’s best for the team – but you have to do it collectively and not come out on your own,” a declared Thibodeau. “If you go too one-on-one, it will hurt you.” “

But when you play enough defense – like the Knicks have been doing all season – you can win any contest. The Lakers could find out on Monday during their only visit.

The Nerlens Noel Center recorded four blocks. Reggie Bullock had three interceptions. RJ Barrett hit in another big 3 and Julius Randle hit clutch free throws in the dying seconds to bring the Knicks down to 0.500.

It should have been a lot easier, but the Knicks aren’t designed to be easy. Barrett said he was always “excited” about the win no matter what it looked like.

Tom Thibodeau
Tom Thibodeau
Getty Images

“What I learned, being in the NBA,” Barrett said, “it’s a long game. Everything can happen. “

Toronto’s first possession of the night was stifled by Bullock, who intercepted a pass and slipped for a layup. The last possession of the first quarter ended with Bullock’s double team Pascal Siakam snatching the ball and starting another lay-up.

The first quarter ended the Knicks 24, Raptors 16. Toronto was no longer in Cleveland. The night before, the Raptors had collected 47 points in the first quarter.

Welcome to Tom Thibodeau’s Jardin de la Défense.

At halftime, the Knicks were leading 56-42. The Raptors shot 31 percent. The Knicks were making a statement – although it got a bit muddled in the rain in the second half.

Sunday was the third anniversary of the Thibodeau Timberwolves breaking a 14-year playoff drought.

Ironically, Wolves star rookie and No. 1 overall pick Anthony Edwards probably wouldn’t mind playing for Thibodeau judging by his comments on Friday’s Knicks defense.

Rookie of the Year favorite Edwards was asked how Wolves can become a better defensive team.

Unsolicited, he sounded like a sage quoting the Thibodeau Knicks, showering them with praise. Defensive stats show the major progress, but it’s more meaningful to hear Edwards – without preconceived biases – praise the Knicks like he did.

“If you put in an effort you have great defense,” said Edwards. “If you watch New York night and night, they don’t have very good single defenders. Whatever their defensive game plan, it’s great. They play excellent defense as a team at all times. I love watching them play defense. I think they’re the best defensive team in the league. They play hard. They take you out of your business and put pressure on you.

Even during the Knicks’ recent 1-5 slide, no one blamed their defense. In those five losses, the Knicks have allowed just 102 points per game.

Thibodeau may never win one of those NBA Coach of the Month awards, but it’s not like March winner Nate McMillan of Atlanta boiling hot was listed on “Saturday Night Live.” »- as Thibodeau was this weekend. To be fair, SNL’s cast members have been celebrity matches over the years, but that wasn’t an award.

During a parody rap song, titled “Weird Little Flute,” Kid Cudi and Pete Davidson said, “Learning can be hard… So I train hard like Thibodeau… And the one time I really get high … It’s when I play my piccolo. “

Quin Snyder from Utah isn’t getting that love from SNL anytime soon.

“He pushes me every day,” Knicks rookie Obi Toppin said before the game. “He challenges me every day to be better, not just offensively but definitely defensively. “

It would be shocking for the Knicks to crumble now and pull out of the play-in tournament and come in 11th place.

Because their style is all about defense (they allow the least points in the league at 104.5 per game), this is not a club prone to a huge slip.

There were great concerns about their attacking prowess in the second half and Alec Burks’ late renewal with a two point lead could have been glaring without Siakam’s double dribble. A little bit of luck. Lots of defense.

Thibodeau looked restless for much of the evening, but smiled as he spoke of the rain delay.

“I thought it was baseball,” he said.

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