No lead is safe for Tom Thibodeau’s faltering Knicks

You’d like to think, if you’re a Knicks fan, that there might be an option to laugh not to cry. Seriously: Was there a Knicks fan around 8:40 p.m. Wednesday night who wasn’t involved in a thread in which someone assumed, “This is going to be a disheartening loss”?

That was around the time the Knicks’ lead over the Nets had increased to 28 points. It’s supposed to be funny. But Knicks fans know better than to exhale. So what followed was just as inevitable as it was unsurprising. The shame attached to the last 2 ½ quarters of that 111-106 loss to the Knicks was rancid, and it cannot be understated.

For the third time in 11 days, the Knicks have taken a lead of 20 or more points.

For the third time in 11 days, the Knicks lost a lead of 20 or more points.

And this one had a little more spice, for the kicks and the laughs: After letting the Nets get back into the game with a third-quarter start by post, the Knicks actually rebuilt the lead until at 18, 91-73, with just under 11 minutes left in the fourth. That means the Nets somehow outclassed the Knicks by 24 points in the final 660 seconds of the game.

It should be nearly impossible.

Except the 2021-22 Knicks keep going up – or is it going down? – the bar on what is actually impossible.

Tom Thibodeau
Tom Thibodeau
Jason Szenes

“Nothing good,” Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said, shaking his head, when asked about another calamitous meltdown in what is becoming a collection of pretty unsightly disasters. “You have to understand the intensity of the fourth quarter. When you have a lead like that, it’s a question of game management. You have to take care of it. You cannot play recklessly.

What’s left to say about this team, which now has an ungainly 25-34 heading into the All-Star break and will emerge with the toughest part of its schedule ahead of it? It is certain that the voices inside the Garden and elsewhere that are now calling for Thibodeau’s work will clear their throats and cry louder. And what are you going to tell them, that they’re crazy?

(To be clear, as I wrote on Wednesday, it’s wrong to fire him. But sure, it’s harder to defend that position.)

Surely those who have been convinced that a team that is built around Julius Randle as its alpha dog will play at the top of your game. And what are you going to tell them, that their lying eyes don’t see what everyone else sees?

“I wish I had an answer for you,” Randle said, after scoring 31 points and grabbing 10 rebounds, though he was again unable to help stop another rockslide. “I think we should be better than where we are in terms of records, obviously. But we’re not.

No they are not. And you can go down several avenues as to why they’ve crashed in the fourth quarter over the past two weeks, but that’s almost too limiting. Let a Wednesday night streak stand as representative of the Knicks’ current situation:

Julius Randle and Immanuel Quickley drop their heads in the final minutes of the Knicks' 111-106 loss to the Nets.
Julius Randle and Immanuel Quickley drop their heads in the final minutes of the Knicks’ 111-106 loss to the Nets.
Jason Szenes

Late in the game, after the Nets had passed them and held a 3-point lead, Brooklyn’s LaMarcus Aldridge took an 18-footer that missed. The Garden crowd, pleading out of habit more than hope, momentarily rejoiced until it became clear that the ball was not going to land in the hands of one of the three nearby Knicks, but in those of Bruce Brown of the Nets. He fed Patty Mills, who missed a long 3-pointer – then Mills got her own rebound.

A Nets timeout later, rookie Cam Thomas — whom the Knicks made look like a young Jerry West for about six remarkable minutes — buried a 3-pointer from 29 feet away.

Game. Together. Match. Disgrace.

Now? The Knicks have nine days to sleep on this, nine days to find a way to avoid falling into a basketball black hole that seems almost pre-dug.

“We have a chance to restart here,” Thibodeau said, not looking or sounding like a man who might have to sweat these nine days ahead. “Everything is on the table now. Everything should be based on merit. You earn what you get.

“You watch everything. How are we going to handle this. If a guy plays well, he plays. If the team is performing well, it should flat. The team must come first for everyone.

It certainly sounds good in a vacuum. The same goes for Thibodeau: “All I think about is winning.”

That’s how it should be, not the nervous exchange of text threads all over Greater New York when the Knicks are up 28, but they still feel like 12-point underdogs. Bad times at the Garden always feel like the worst times in any sport here. And here we are again.

New York Post

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