Knicks’ Tom Thibodeau on struggling starters: ‘We got to function together as a group’

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Knicks Tom Thibodeau black sweater arms outstretched
Knicks Tom Thibodeau black sweater arms outstretched

It was only two days ago that the Knicks’ starting five struggled to score points in the team’s loss to the Milwaukee Bucks, and those struggles reared their heads again Friday against the Charlotte Hornets.

Kemba Walker scored a season-high 26 points, but the rest of the starters failed to put up many points against a high-octane Hornets team in their 104-96 loss in Charlotte.


Julius Randle scored just 10 points while Evan Fournier (5) and RJ Barrett (2) couldn’t crack double-digits combined. Despite all of that, the Knicks held a healthy nine-point lead at halftime, but then the third quarter happened. The team was outscored 34-21 in the third frame and while the bench helped bring the team back in the fourth quarter, it wasn’t enough.

“[The starters] started the game well, built to a big lead and in this league you need to play for 48 minutes. [The Hornets are] capable of scoring a lot of points and no lead is safe if you don’t play with the right intensity in the second half,” Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau told the media after the loss. “We didn’t play well. So we got to fix that. The bench came in and played well, but we need everyone playing well. It’s a team so you need your starters to play well, your bench to play well. They need to play well together.”

When asked what he meant by “fix that,” the second-year Knicks coach broke it down simply. He said that three aspects of the game put any team in a position to win: defense, rebounding and lack of turnovers. Thibodeau pointed out the Knicks’ defense and rebounding were good, initially, but then the turnovers began to happen and the rest fell apart from there.

In the final minutes of the third quarter with the Knicks down by double digits, Thibodeau pulled the starters and brought in his second unit. The group of Derrick Rose, Immanuel Quickley, Taj Gibson, Alec Burks and Obi Toppin turned the momentum to the Knicks favor heading into the final quarter. The group continued to play well and even took a small lead.

“We got into the same situation [as the last game] in the second half where you are just searching. You're trying to get a group that has some rhythm that gives you the best chance to win,” Thibodeau said. “So the bench was in there for a long run. Kemba had a good game going, Derrick got nicked up so that made sense. And then you have to make a decision. How long are you going to ride the bench? It didn’t work.”

In the loss to the Bucks earlier this week, Thibodeau kept his bench players in and they couldn’t complete the comeback. Friday, he decided to bring back his starters to try to get the win, but the team would give the lead away again, this time for good. Despite the struggles, Thibodeau knows his team is better than this and is being patient so they can figure it out.

“It’s not a one person thing. It’s our group. We got to function together as a group. We got to bring the best out in each other and everyone has the responsibility to execute, to share the ball, to be in the right spots,” Thibodeau said. “That’s what we have to do and when we do that we’re a very good offense.

“It’s a long season. Players go through this. I’m a big believer in being mentally tough when you face adversity. And so oftentimes you just got to work your way through it. It could change on the next play. If you’re not shooting well, do a lot of other things that could help us win. Whether it’s rebounding, making plays, screening, moving without the ball, cutting hard whatever it may be there’s a lot of different things you can do to help the team. We can’t get wrapped up in personal dilemmas, it’s a team game and everyone is capable of playing well when they don’t shoot well.”

The Knicks will look to end their losing streak when they host the Indiana Pacers on Monday night.