Confident Austin Rivers believes this Knicks team is different than those of previous years

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Ian Begley
·2 min read
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Austin Rivers walks off floor after Knicks beat Jazz
Austin Rivers walks off floor after Knicks beat Jazz

As a rookie, Austin Rivers was on a New Orleans team that won just 27 games.

A few years later, Rivers won 56 games with the Clippers.

So he’s seen bad NBA teams. And he’s seen playoff contenders.

It’s way too early to know if the 2020-21 Knicks are going to be a playoff team. But based on what he’s seen in the first seven games, Rivers doesn’t think this Knicks team is going to be bad.

Rivers keyed the Knicks’ win over Utah on Wednesday. The veteran guard scored 14 straight points in a 3:28 stretch late in the fourth quarter. The first basket – a step-back three – broke a 96-96 tie. Rivers’ last bucket – another step-back three – gave New York a 110-100 lead.

Rivers’ hot hand helped the Knicks rebound from an 18-point first-half deficit on Wednesday. New York (5-3) has won five of six, including two straight in which they faced a deficit of at least 15 points.

Again, it’s too early to say anything definitive about this team. But the Knicks certainly look like a group that has bought into head coach Tom Thibodeau’s approach.

And Thibodeau seems to like the group that he’s coaching.

Earlier Wednesday, Rivers and Elfrid Payton spoke in detail about Thibodeau and how he commands respect from his team. Both Rivers and Payton are in their first season playing for Thibodeau.

But Rivers has known Thibodeau for years. Thibodeau was a top assistant in Boston under Doc Rivers, Austin’s father.

Thibodeau relayed a story about Austin’s visits to Boston that illustrates his confidence – something that was on display late in the fourth on Wednesday.

New York signed Rivers to a three-year, $10 million deal in the offseason. The final two years aren’t fully guaranteed. Based on how he’s played very early on in his Knicks tenure, Rivers’ deal looks incredibly team-friendly.

If he continues to play like this over the next eight weeks, it’s reasonable to assume that contenders will have interest in trading for him prior to the March 25 trade deadline.

At that point, the Knicks would have an interesting decision to make on Rivers.

But that’s a subject for another day. Right now, eight games into a 72-game season, Rivers is enjoying his role as a veteran closer for this Knick team. He just wishes there were fans in the Garden to witness it.