The New York Knicks’ Lineup Magic Has Officially Run Out
One could argue that the nameless monarch from the tale of Humpty Dumpty did more to reunite the titular character than the New York Knicks did to stop Luka Doncic on Tuesday night … at least the former reportedly used all his horses and all. his people.
Perhaps what Knicks fans can take away from Doncic’s exhibition was the fact that it took one of the most unique and dominant triple-doubles (60 points, 21 rebounds, 10 assists) in NBA history … and also extra … His Dallas Mavericks to fend off a Knicks squad that is missing two of its star attractions. This, however, also hints that the Knicks played well enough to steal a win from a surging road opponent.
Behind every historic performance is a victim, and the Knicks were forced into that role. The 2022-23 New Yorkers are now footnotes in both Dallas and NBA epics: Doncic’s 60-point outing is the best in team history (breaking Dirk Nowitzki’s record as fellow international Maverick looked on from a luxury suite) as well as the highest score. haul in every triple-double (joining Texas basketball standout James Harden).
One could argue that Doncic was helped by overtime, but it was a five-minute stretch that he created: after Dallas cut the lead to three, Doncic converted a missed free throw into a tie, making it right in front of the injured party. teammate Jalen Brunson.
Lost in the post-Christmas carnage were a few Knicks who made their own history-making marks. Granted, none of them usurped a name like Nowitzki, and most of the records set were of the personal variety. But with the team trying to end a three-game losing streak and maintain its position among the Eastern Conference’s six automatic playoff teams, it was encouraging to see names like Quentin Grimes (33 points) and Immanuel Quickley (15 assists, first Knicks for him. have 11 in a single half since Stephon Marbury) rises to the occasion.
However, leave it to the Knicks to serve as basketball’s living case of Murphy’s Law. Several New Yorkers set a polarizing career best on Tuesday … the category in question is minutes.
Quickley played an entire game and then some in 51. Grimes had his best scoring night in 48. Julius Randle (45) has had slightly busier nights, but Miles McBride, who 46 minutes after being called up to get the minutes of an injured RJ Barrett, there isn’t.
There are layoffs and then there’s what the Knicks roster had to go through on Tuesday. It’s perhaps the scariest effort of the Tom Thibodeau era.
Granted, pointing the finger at Thibodeau feels like a cop-out after a closer look at the box score: It’s not Thibodeau who went 7-for-15 from the foul line over the last 10:06 of playing time, after all. Thibodeau wasn’t the one to leave the Doncic shot exposed after his fatal win. But Thibodeau’s quest to find the perfect nine-man rotation … that appeared to be on a roll as recently as a week ago, as the Knicks were in the midst of what became an eight-game winning streak … may prove to be his undoing.
Thibodeau has fully embraced the idea of working with a small lineup this season, fully committing to his faith in the nine. Such a strategy has forced some New York veterans into extreme roller-coaster campaigns: Evan Fournier, the Knicks’ starting shooting guard on opening night, hasn’t touched the hardwood in more than a month. He was succeeded by Grimes, a de facto 12th man, as he dealt with a pre-season ankle injury during the opening stanzas of this campaign. Cam Reddish was the starter right after Veterans Day, recovering from an injury by Thanksgiving, but hasn’t played since lighting the second Advent candle.
All along, there have been a few key elements of the lineup that have held permanent roles in Thibodeau’s favor … a belief that he might regret it not through performance, but through fatigue. It’s admirable, for example, that Brunson worked through nagging injuries and some early visits to the locker room to appear in every game this season, especially in the so-called load management era. But maybe a night off might have done him, and the Knicks, some good.
On a night when Brunson was in street clothes and Barrett was forced to leave after just 96 seconds, Thibodeau’s dedication to his current set was especially evident. True, there are some signs of, for lack of a better term, evolution: It’s likely to come with Obi Toppin injured, but it’s inspiring to see Thibodeau mix and match Jericho Sims with Mitchell Robinson and Isaiah Hartenstein. But watching Thibodeau put an eight-man rotation through both overtime and a historic individual effort was almost uncomfortable.
Say what you will about Thibodeau, he finds a plan he likes and sticks to it. But the belief was perhaps a little too strong Tuesday, more or less flailing as the Knicks burned on the court at American Airlines Center.
His dedication to his current production … with the exception of Derrick Rose temporarily leaving exile … forced the Knicks into long, grueling stretches. Could a defender like Reddish not have hindered Doncic? Could a seasoned veteran like Rose (whose 12 minutes were the most since last meeting Dallas on Dec. 3 at Madison Square Garden) have given a youngster like McBride (last season’s best in minutes was 27 on Dec. 7 vs. Atlanta? ) some rest?
Unfortunately, the NBA does not provide answers to such questions. That’s the bed Thibodeau has pretty much made for himself. It has pushed the Knicks into a somewhat desirable spot … even with Tuesday’s slump, New York (18-17) still holds the No. 6 seed in the early playoff picture … but a game like Tuesday suggests That team will be hard-pressed to keep that position moving, especially if Brunson’s injury is anything to go by.
When evaluating Thibodeau’s performance, one must consider the idea that he could very well be under some sort of front office mandate to keep exiles like Fournier, Reddish and Rose on the bench in order to keep them safe for a trade. The Knicks have made no secret of their desire to become a buyer at the deadline this winter, but such a desirable liability comes with trying to put distance between themselves and the Play-In Tournament. That split won’t come if they’re posting true historic losses.
Time will tell if Thibodeau starts to open things up a bit in his lineup after Doncic almost single-handedly exposed almost every flaw they have in a post-Brunson world. It is highly unlikely that the team will make any coaching changes during the season, barring a drastic fall from grace: let’s be honest, the team is actually exceeding the generally accepted expectations of Play-In tournament glory, where the expectation of a game among the quartet of mediocrity would be It was seen as progress for a team that endured an embarrassing 35-game win streak last season.
Thibodeau has confirmed his commitment to the nine-man rotation and has shown no signs of leaving it. The long-suffering, if not loyal, fans of the Knicks can only watch and wait for his salvation or his last stay in Manhattan.
Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags
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