Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau is a sports fan. He likes to draw parallels from those teams and apply them to his own teams. There is no doubt that he has been watching the Giants with interest.
The New York Giants went through a roller coaster of a season. They had their ups and downs like any sports team after a long season. In the end, they made the playoffs and won an NFC wild-card playoff game (a 31-24 victory over the Minnesota Vikings) that put them in a position to play the Philadelphia Eagles on Saturday night in the NFC Divisional Round.
A Super Bowl run could be possible for those overachievers.
The Knicks resemble some of the qualities that the Giants have as it is tough to play against them. Also, they are well-coached.
Thibodeau acknowledged the great job Brian Daboll did in his first season as the Giants head coach on Sunday prior to the Knicks’ 117-104 victory over the Detroit Pistons. He cited the culture change the Giants' head coach provided his team. He also talked about the Giants being tough and resilient, which created an identity that Daboll brought to the team.
There’s no doubt the Knicks' head coach will also talk to his players and tell them that their team can be just like the Giants and be a team that comes out of nowhere to be an NBA playoff contender this season.
Thibodeau knows the Knicks are a playoff team. He can see that by the way they play defense and the way they score in crunch time. He has a point guard in Jalen Brunson that can be a game-changer. He has young players such as Immanuel Quickley, Quentin Grimes, RJ Barrett and Obi Toppin, who are rounding into a form. He likes how his team grinds and plays together and for each other.
He also wants them to believe they can do more than make the playoffs. He thinks they can make an Eastern Conference playoff run.
This could be tough since there are many great Eastern Conference teams that have a superstar, which the Knicks don’t have. Sure, the Knicks have good players, but they don’t have a superstar.
This is where Thibs’ coaching and prodding will have to make a difference. He is being paid $4 million a year to make it happen. To his credit, this is what he relishes -- a chance to coach an underdog.
Sure, Thibodeau would prefer to have a star like Donovan Mitchell to pair with Brunson. The Knicks should have found a way to acquire him from Cleveland this off-season. If they had, this could have made the Knicks head coach’s job a lot easier.
But he has come around with the young players. Quickly, Grimes, Barrett, Toppin and even Miles McBride have gotten better since last month and he has grown to trust them. With trust comes confidence, and those guys are now playing at an all-time high.
Thibodeau clearly has something in his team that has him believing.
That’s a good thing since the Knicks fans have been slow to respond to this team so far. The Knicks are 25-19 after a 123-121 overtime loss to the Toronto Raptors Monday in the annual Martin Luther King Jr. matinee at Madison Square Garden. Prior to this loss, they had won seven of eight.
This is a team that is in a good place by trending upward, and they can do better. There is no doubt that Thibodeau will keep pushing them to the max all the way to the playoffs.
The goal is not just to make the playoffs, but to go on an Eastern Conference playoff run this spring. This would truly mean the Knicks are really back.
We celebrated the Knicks being back two years ago just for playing competent basketball and making the playoffs. This time, the fans want more. There’s no doubt Thibodeau, Leon Rose and James Dolan surely want more, too.
No one will give the Knicks a chance come playoff time. Their fans are still jaded from disappointments under Dolan. This is where Thibodeau is going to earn his money.
Right now, the Knicks head coach is engaged with his players, which is something no one could have said last year. He didn’t like last year’s team. They were not athletic, and they struggled to score when it matters. The player development lagged last season.
It has been a different story since December. They have been resilient after tough losses such as them blowing a nine-point lead against the Dallas Mavericks in the fourth quarter and going on to take a 126-121 overtime loss.
The Knicks can be even better, and they know it. That’s what Thibodeau relishes in being a head coach, a chance to make them even better. He will keep pushing them since he knows they can do something special. Daboll's work with the Giants serves as an inspiration for him.
He will be reminding them about the Giants to provide the Knicks with an example of what they can really do.
It could be a special spring in our long-suffering basketball city, just like what we are seeing now in our long-suffering football city.
Thibs knows it, and this is what motivates him to do his job every day.