Knicks and Tom Thibodeau finally look completely in sync

There are some nights that are better than others at Madison Square Garden. This was one of the good ones. The defending champs were in town, even if they were absent two starters. The home team was on a roll, seven straight wins and counting. Every seat was filled, and there was juice overflowing in every corner of the old fifth-floor gym.

It is fun to remember when nights like these were common around here, but it is more important for the present occupants of the orange-and-blue uniforms to get a look at these nights, far more valuable for them to take a listen. This is what it looks like when you’re playing basketball at a level worthy of a packed city room. This is what it sounds like. This is what it feels like.

“I love our team, I love the way they practice, the way we prepare,” Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said after watching the Knicks obliterate the Warriors, 132-94, adding an eighth-straight victory to their slowly growing pile. “But we’ve got to know it keeps coming, you can’t exhale, every day is about improvement and how to get better.”

Still, even Thibodeau couldn’t bring himself to call the regulars back after they’d carefully built a 100-81 lead after three, and after the subs came in and finished off Golden State. The Knicks are playing the Raptors on Wednesday, and there was no need to make anyone work any more than he had to. That’s not Thibs’ usual MO

“I’ve never seen that,” Jalen Brunson quipped. “First time for everything.”

Knicks
Tom Thibodeau
Robert Sabo

But, then, these aren’t the standard-issue Knicks. Not the last couple of weeks. They have hit a manageable part of their schedule anyway, and caught a break with Steph Curry and Andrew Wiggins nursing injuries. But the bigger break may be the Knicks’ own health, their ability to answer the bell night after night.

That starts with Brunson — brilliant again Tuesday with 21 points and five assists in only 30 minutes. There have been no fewer than three times this season when Brunson could have reported in civvies — maybe should’ve — and not simply to take a load-management break. But he has preached from his introductory press conference that he takes his role as team leader most seriously of all.

“We knew right away,” Thibodeau had said before the game, recalling that the day after Brunson became a Knick for real he was at the team’s practice facility working, working out, preparing for the essentials of generalship.

It was an old Knicks fan named Woody Allen who famously said, “Eighty percent of success in life is just showing up.” Brunson shows up. So have the rest of the Knicks. Julius Randle plays every day. RJ Barrett plays every day, and Immanuel Quickley, and Isaiah Hartenstein. Quentin Grimes missed time early but he’s an essential part of the team’s fabric now; he hurt his ankle late in the second quarter Tuesday but was ready to play at the start of the third.

Knicks
RJ Barrett drives to the basket for the Knicks.
USA TODAY Sports

You may assume Brunson might’ve had an opinion about whether Grimes should play hurt or not; that assumption would be correct.

“I don’t think I’m allowed to repeat what I said,” Brunson said, smiling.

If you want a perfect recipe for the Knicks, that’s it. That’s the one. They show up. And lately they even play a little bit of defense when they show up. A month ago, it seemed like the team and the coach were so far apart, on such different pages, it was like being on the first and last page of “The Power Broker,” Robert Caro’s biography of Robert Moses which checks in at a cool 1,162 pages.

Now the starting five and the coach look like a six-man doo-wop group, they’re so closely aligned. They have the longest winning streak in the league. They look an awful lot like the way they looked at their best two years ago. It can be fleeting. Winning streaks end. A lot of times the part of a season that best defines a team is what it does after a winning streak.

Simms
Jericho Sims dunks the ball for the Knicks.
Robert Sabo

“No one’s talking about the winning streak,” Julius Randle said, fresh off a 15-point, 12-rebound effort in three seconds less than 30 minutes of play. “We’re just playing for each other right now.”

Still. It’s a hell of a show right now. And despite a few occasional spasms from Warriors fans in the house Tuesday, most of the 19,812 seemed to be having a splendid evening.

“When you see something working,” Randle said, “you want to repeat it as much as possible.”

Eight straight repeats now. And counting.

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