Tom Thibodeau on impact basketball has in New York City: 'What the Knicks mean to the city is special'

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Knicks Tom Thibodeau pulling mask down
Knicks Tom Thibodeau pulling mask down

The Knicks are back in the playoffs for the first time since 2013, as head coach Tom Thibodeau turned the team around and brought excitement back to the Garden.

On Thursday, Thibodeau spoke to media and discussed how important the Knicks and basketball are to New York City. He's even noticed a different atmosphere around town, as the city has slowly begun to reopen from the COVID-19 pandemic.

"It's been great," Thibodeau said. "It's exciting because obviously I was here in the nineties, and I grew up in Connecticut. I know things are starting to get back to normal. I was stuck in traffic this morning so people are moving around again, and hopefully by the end of the summer, it's back to normal. It's a great sports town, as we know. We know what basketball means to the city. So hopefully we can give them something to be proud of. We got a special group of guys that have worked extremely hard all year long to put us in position, and now the challenge starts all over again."

The Knicks finished the regular season with a 41-31 record, earning the No. 4 seed in the Eastern Conference Playoffs and a matchup with the No. 5 seed Atlanta Hawks. The last time the Knicks won a playoff series was back in the 1999-2000 season when they advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals, eventually falling to the Indiana Pacers, 4-2.

Thibodeau was an assistant coach with the Knicks from 1996-2004, working under head coach Jeff Van Gundy from 1996-2001. He's experienced the Garden playoff atmosphere before, and knows how special that can be for players and fans.

"Madison Square Garden has always been a special place," Thibodeau said. "Obviously I saw it at its heights in the nineties. It was a special time with Jeff [Van Gundy], and the coaching staff, and the great players we had. It was a lot of fun, the big games that really meant a lot. You could see how excited the city was about the team.

"And then coming in with opposing teams just seeing how excited your players are to play in the Garden. And everyone knows we have great fans and you make a great play here, it's recognized. I think every organization goes through ups and downs. The best thing about the Knick fans is they stay with you. Whether you're here or you're on the road, there's always a lot of New York people supporting the team. I think what the Knicks mean to the city is special."

The Garden is now expected to allow at least 13,000 fans for the playoff games after Gov. Andrew Cuomo said there will be vaccinated sections, with no limits on how many people can sit in those sections.

That news excited All-Star forward Julius Randle, as he can now experience the special playoff environment that Thibodeau mentioned.