Tom Thibodeau discusses Knicks clinching playoff berth: 'We wanted to build a foundation this year'

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Julius Randle and Thom Thibodeau
Julius Randle and Thom Thibodeau

Prior to tipoff with the San Antonio Spurs at Madison Square Garden, Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau spoke to reporters on Thursday for the first time since the Knicks officially clinched a playoff berth on Wednesday night.

This season has been a drastic turnaround for the Knicks, who quickly went from years of turmoil and losing to clinching the franchise's first playoff spot since the 2012-13 season.

But Thibodeau and the Knicks will continue to take the same approach moving forward as they have the entire season, focusing on one thing at a time to achieve their goals.

“We’ve talked about it as a team for a while now, it’s important for us to continue to just take it as we have step by step, and we want to check things off as we go along,” Thibodeau said. “The first thing was you focus in on your opponent, take care of that, and then everything else should take care of itself. The first part was the play-in, then the playoffs, and now the highest seed possible, but you have to go step by step, you can’t skip over things.

“We knew from the start of the season the goals that we wanted to establish, and we wanted the focus to be on what we were trying to get accomplished each and every day, and we felt that if we did that we would be in this position, to be playing our best at the end and hopefully have a shot at things.”

At 38-31, the Knicks are currently in sixth place in the Eastern Conference, though they could still finish as high as fourth place depending on what happens in their final three regular season games.

Thibodeau may very well be the favorite for NBA Coach of the Year given how much the Knicks have improved this season under his leadership, but he gave all the credit to his players on Thursday for everything they’ve accomplished in a challenging environment this season.

“It’s a credit to the team, the way they worked and sacrificed all season long, and I think one of the strengths of the club is their ability to focus and maintain a high concentration and intensity level over the course of a long season with a lot of challenges,” said Thibodeau.

“You know there’s still a long way to go, and you just approach it like you do the season, and just check things off as you go.”

While Thibodeau is clearly focused on taking things one step at a time, he was also asked about what this playoff berth means to young New York fans who have never seen the Knicks play in the postseason.

As someone who grew up in the area and was an assistant with the Knicks in the late 1990s, Thibodeau knows how important a winning team is to this city.

“Having grown up in Connecticut and being here in the 90s with the Knicks and knowing what basketball means to this city, it’s great. I think, the type of guys we have, it reflects all the things that this city is all about,” Thibodeau said. “So, we’re trying to make them proud and give them something that they can cheer about. It’s a great environment to be in.”

“We wanted to build a foundation this year,” he added. “We’ve still got a long way to go and there’s a lot to do, but we’ve had a good start.”