Knicks' Tom Thibodeau on uncharacteristic defense, bench play: 'That’s got to be our calling card'

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Alex Smith
·4 min read
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Tom Thibodeau pointing in grey pullover, no players visible
Tom Thibodeau pointing in grey pullover, no players visible

Two of the biggest reasons why the Knicks have shown so much improvement this season – aside form Julius Randle’s All-Star caliber play — have been the team’s consistently strong bench play and smothering defensive intensity.

But in Wednesday’s 107-89 loss to the Orlando Magic, neither of those elements showed up.

New York allowed the Magic, who entered as one of the worst offensive teams in the league, to shoot 45.7 percent from the floor, including 16-of-34 (47.1 percent) from the three-point line.

After the game, head coach Tom Thibodeau explained that he liked the intensity the Knicks have had in practice, but he didn’t believe his team made enough in-game adjustments to stop the Magic attack.

“They played really well, and I want to give them credit. We didn’t make shots and we allowed that to affect us in a lot of other areas, but our defense wasn’t good right from the start, we were just trading buckets,” said Thibodeau. “Right from the start of the game, I think they scored five or six times in row right off the bat, and when they do that, it’s going to be a long night. That’s got to be our calling card.

“We have to adjust during the course of a game. When a team starts making shots like they did, you have to look at the containment of the ball, the appropriate help, are we moving on the flight of the ball and are we challenging shots correctly? … I felt like we didn’t have our normal awareness, and that’s been one of the strong suits of the team. So, we have to learn from it and we have to get better for the next one.”

Meanwhile Orlando’s bench outscored the Knicks’ reserves 42-26, led by Terrence Ross’ 30-point performance.

The bench’s backcourt combination of Derrick Rose and Immanuel Quickley, who have played so well together since Rose was acquired from Detroit, struggled mightily, going a combined 2-for-22 from the floor.

“Really it was the second quarter,” Thibodeau responded when asked how the tide turned against New York after a strong first quarter. “Normally our bench is a big plus for us. We lost an 11-point lead very quickly. We didn’t challenge shots the way that we should have, and they just got it going, and it’s hard to turn them off once they get going.”

"Our energy probably wasn’t up to where Orlando’s was," added Quickley. "Give them credit, they’re a great team, they came out and made plays, they played hard, and you've just got to give Orlando a lot of credit."

Quickley has been one of the biggest bright spots for the Knicks this season, but like all rookies, he's had his ups and downs. And Wednesday's game is a learning opportunity for the Kentucky product.

"We’ll go back and look at the film. Obviously I didn’t shoot well," Quickley said. "You can’t base your game off of making shots, missing shots. That’s something that, like I said, you work hard, you put the work in and you come out and just play.

"But things like energy, defense, togetherness, toughness, those are things that you can control on a night-to-night basis. [Those were] a couple of the things that I feel we didn’t do as a group. We’ve just got to come out and try to do better next time."

The Knicks were previously scheduled to face the San Antonio Spurs on Saturday, but that game has been postponed due to COVID-19 protocols, giving the Knicks three days off before taking the court again on Sunday when they host the Minnesota Timberwolves.

As Thibodeau said, this mini break from game action will give the Knicks a chance to right their wrongs heading into Sunday.

“Just take it day by day,” Thibodeau said. “We’ve had a tough schedule in terms of travel, so this is a chance for us to gather, take a look at exactly where we are, work on the things that we need to work on, and then we’ve got to be ready for Minnesota."