Tom Thibodeau's intensity a key piece of Knicks' identity: 'That's why we are who we are'

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Tom Thibodeau treated image, yelling in grey Knicks pullover
Tom Thibodeau treated image, yelling in grey Knicks pullover

This is Wednesday night, around 8:45 p.m. It’s halftime of the Knicks' preseason game against the Detroit Pistons. Derrick Rose is sitting in the locker room. A veteran leader of this Knicks team, Rose wants to address something he’s seen from his young teammates.

Rose knows Tom Thibodeau was about to enter the locker room. So he shares his thoughts quickly.

"Ten-to-fifteen seconds before he walked in (the locker room), I was telling the young guys, 'Do not look over to the sideline (when Thibodeau’s upset). If you look at him, it’s going to f--k up your game. So do not look at him,'" Rose said. "Just raise your hand. Everybody knows you made a mistake, and just keep it going. If you look over there, it’s over. Everybody knows you messed up, bro. Just keep playing and know that you have to give that same effort throughout the entire game."

Rose speaks from experience. He’s played for Thibodeau for most of his 12-year NBA career. So he knows that looking over at Thibodeau can only lead to bad outcomes for a young player.

"When I was younger, I used to look over at the sideline a lot. And you feel his emotions," Rose said. "It’s kind of strange, bro. After a while I just raised my hand bro, and put my head down."

Rose and Thibodeau now have an unshakable bond. So he wasn’t surprised at all when Thibs played his starters late in the Knicks’ preseason game against Detroit Wednesday. Julius Randle checked into the game with seven minutes remaining after he suffered a minor quad injury. It’s fair to assume that most other NBA coaches would have left Randle on the sideline.

But Thibodeau does things his own way. And Randle appreciates it.

"Thibs is a different breed, man. He’s going to give us (his) best and we’re going to give him our best every night," Randle said Wednesday. "So Thibs is definitely different but that’s why we are who we are. It starts with him."

If it starts with Thibodeau, Randle is right next to him. Randle bought in to Thibs' coaching last season and the results were remarkable: New York earned the No. 4 seed in the eastern conference, Thibodeau earned Coach of the Year, and Randle earned Second-Team All-NBA honors.

Thibodeau’s approach obviously isn’t for everyone.

If the franchise’s top player doesn’t buy in, that usually leaves a coach on shaky ground.

But the Knicks don’t have to worry about that at the moment. Randle, the No. 1 option on this team, subscribes fully to the Thibodeau Doctrine.

"Everything’s important if you’re competing and you want to win. I understand that (preseason) is used as time to establish rhythms and figure out rotations or whatever it is. But that’s really not who we are," Randle said Wednesday. "Our goal is regardless of preseason or practice, whatever it is, we compete and build the right habits to win; give ourselves a chance to win every game. Preseason or not, it doesn’t matter to us."

There were moments on Wednesday when Thibodeau was screaming at officials for their calls (or lack of calls). He got into his players over defensive miscues. He even challenged a play late in the fourth quarter of the Knicks’ win (they’re 3-0 in preseason).

Agree or disagree with his approach, you shouldn’t expect Thibodeau to change.

May 15, 2021; New York, New York, USA; Julius Randle #30 of the New York Knicks celebrates the win with head coach Tom Thibodeau after the win over the Charlotte Hornets at Madison Square Garden
May 15, 2021; New York, New York, USA; Julius Randle #30 of the New York Knicks celebrates the win with head coach Tom Thibodeau after the win over the Charlotte Hornets at Madison Square Garden

"Everyone has to be themselves. There’s a lot of different ways (to coach). I’m not saying my way is for everyone. I know my way is for me," Thibodeau said Wednesday. "And everything matters to me, everything that we do. I’ve seen guys who are very successful doing it another way. That’s the beauty of this game. It’s played a lot of different ways. There’s a lot of different styles. There’s a lot of great coaches out there.

"I think for us, we’re an organization that’s building right now. We want to get established. So our fight continues every day. I love the fight in our guys."

That fight to get established, led by Thibodeau, has led to a lot of success so far. Will that success continue? We’ll find out over the next few months. But, win or lose, you shouldn’t expect anything less than full intensity from Thibodeau.

"Nothing is going to change. It’s going to be the same," Rose said of Thibodeau. "His hand is going to shake (when he’s angry). He’s going to be on the side going crazy. But it shows he wants to win. If you’re a winner, you can respect that all the way through. Sometimes it feels like he wants it more than the players. You want that from a coach."