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Tom Thibodeau’s Knicks are broken


It’s 46 games now. We’re way past the small-sample-size blues. We’re well beyond the point where you can talk about the drag of the long season. This isn’t a slump. This isn’t a blip. This is who the Knicks are. This is what the Knicks are. 

And what they are is this: 

They are broken. 

They got stomped at home by the Pelicans Thursday night, 102-91, and while it sometimes feels like a necessary afterthought to add “… in a game that wasn’t as close as the final score indicated …” in this case it happens to be true. The Pelicans, now 11 games under .500 for the year, schooled the Knicks across just about every inch of this mess. The Pelicans are not a good team. 

Which begs the question: What adjective do you use to describe the Knicks? 

Broken. 

That’ll do fine. 

“We played hard but didn’t play with the toughness we needed to fight through things,” Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said after leading off his press conference with a sigh that probably spoke louder than any words could. “Our last six games we’ve had this inconsistency that we have to fix.” 

Tom Thibodeau reacts during the Knicks' loss to the Pelicans.
Tom Thibodeau reacts during the Knicks’ loss to the Pelicans.
Charles Wenzelberg/New York Post

Can they be fixed? Thibodeau has those two NBA Coach of the Year trophies on his mantel. He is paid more than $4 million a year to do things like fix messes precisely like this, to provide a compass for teams that have lost their way. It is easy given how last year’s Knicks finished, closing out the regular season at 16-4, to forget that at various points of the season they were also 9-13 and 25-27. 

They’re 22-24 now, sitting south of the play-in cut line, with the teeth of their schedule still to come. This four-game homestand this week, on which they’re now 0-3, was supposed to be a chance for the Knicks to fatten up their record, give them a buffer for what’s to come, a brutal 49-day, 22-game stretch that includes two western swings, 15 road games and no fewer than 19 games against teams currently in postseason position. 

If they are broken now, there’s no telling what they could look like by March 16, when they play host to the Trail Blazers after this stretch is done. 

“We can’t place blame,” Thibodeau said. “We have to work our way out of this together.” 

That starts with the coach who has had a step-back year on the same level as Julius Randle. In truth, if you didn’t know the identity of the Knicks coach Thursday night, and you just saw the team play, you might’ve just assumed it was a troublesome name from the team’s wretched recent past, pick one, Derek Fisher or Jeff Hornacek or David Fizdale. 

In truth, this is the kind of game, the kind of stretch, that tosses a lesser coach squarely on the griddle. 

But we know Thibodeau’s work. We’ve seen it. Amnesia allows us to forget that as enjoyable as 2020-21 was as a whole, there were some rough patches along the way. Thibodeau always had an answer for those patches (until the playoffs, anyway), and the Knicks always had an answer for themselves. That’s been missing so far this year. That’s been absent. And so there are nights when the Knicks present some ugly, unwatchable basketball. 

Knicks
The Knicks are currently a broken team, The Post’s Mike Vaccaro writes.
Charles Wenzelberg/New York Post

As broken teams will. 

“Losing is frustration,” said RJ Barrett, who was one of two Knicks regulars who played well Thursday, alongside Mitchell Robinson (17 points, 15 rebounds). The other four starters shot 4-for-22. 

“If we didn’t feel like that there would be a problem,” Barrett said. “The spirit of wanting to win is good but it takes more than Xs and Os. Our will — sometimes you just have to will a game, do whatever it takes to win.” 

Taj Gibson put it this way: “I’m happy that I see guys pissed off about this.” 

The players weren’t alone. The Garden was as angry as it’s been in two years, and with reason. The Knicks aren’t just losing games right now, they look bewildered. They look bereft of hope. This is how they’ve looked for 46 games. That 5-1 start feels like it happened around 1995 or so. 

They are broken right now, and unless Thibodeau, for starters, has a few answers up his sleeve we may already have seen the competitive portion of the 2021-22 Knicks schedule.

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