In his first year leading the Sixers bench last season, Doc Rivers became one of the top contenders to win the NBA Coach of the Year award.
Rivers didn’t quite get the vote, but his protégé – Tom Thibodeau, who was his assistant for three seasons in Boston, including when the Celtics won their last title, in 2008 – did.
Rivers can be a little proud of Thibodeau’s success as head coach and toppling the Knicks franchise by breaking a seven-season playoff drought. Rivers actually believed Thibodeau and Suns head coach Monty Williams should have shared the prize.
“I thought he was great,” Rivers said ahead of the Knicks’ 112-99 win on Tuesday. “Personally, I think he and Monty were my choices. I wish they had split up because I thought it should have been split last year. But Thibs is a hell of a trainer. I worked with me for three years, I felt like nine years old, but it’s just good. He works his buttocks. He is in love with basketball. If all the players had the same passion, they would be better players. Ditto for training. “
While Thibodeau was unemployed after his ouster from Minnesota in January 2019, he often visited Rivers Clippers’ practices in Los Angeles.
“I kept calling everyone, ‘Please get this guy a job, so he’ll stop hanging out with me, forcing me to go to dinner,’ Rivers said. “I think I gained 20 pounds in a crazy year with Thibs. “
A former Knick, Rivers played here from 1992 to 1994. The Post ranked the top 75 Knicks to celebrate their 75th birthday, and Rivers made the cut.
“Am I 3 or 4? He asked a reporter.
Informed that he had entered No 66, Rivers said with a laugh, “God damn it. I think this is incorrect. This is good news for me, what have I played, 2 ¹ / ₂ years? So that means I had a pretty good race. I loved playing here. My kids are old now, dammit. They play in the league. They keep going every once in a while when we go to New York they sing that song “Go New York Go New York Go”. It’s like ingrained in their minds. “
The Knicks embark on a two-game road trip to Chicago (Thursday) and New Orleans (Saturday). The Bulls game will be one to remember for Thibodeau, Derrick Rose and Taj Gibson as “Joakim Noah Night” is celebrated at the United Center.
Going into training camp, the Knicks had health issues in the center. They were worried about the wrong guy.
While Mitchell Robinson, recovering from a broken foot, reached the season opener just in time, Nerlens Noel did not.
The veteran center, who resigned on a three-year, $ 31 million contract, has been held on all four preseason games and has now missed the first four games of the regular season, again resting against the Sixers.
“He’s pretty good right now,” Thibodeau said before the game. “I hope it will be soon. That’s when he’s ready to go. He therefore made contact. He’s really close. “
Noel struggled with hamstrings and knees and suffered a setback ahead of the preseason final.
“He was almost back once and then he got aches,” said Thibodeau. “He had a pain in his knee [but] hamstrings are fine. And this pain is much improved.
Noel is a defensive center and the Knicks’ defense hadn’t been as good in protecting the rim. Last season, in his contract year, Noel had a career season finishing fourth in the NBA in blocks (3.0).
Fortunately, Robinson returned sooner than some had expected. Held until the preseason finale, Robinson looked bulkier and stronger.