Tom Thibodeau was an assistant coach with the Knicks for seven seasons, beginning in 1996-97. So he had a front row seat in the franchise’s latest era of sustained success.
He sees one similarity between those teams and the 2022/23 Knicks: their day-to-day habits.
“I love coaching these guys, they are committed to each other,” said Thibodeau before his team firmly beat the Nets for their seventh straight win. “They live in the gym. They’re gym rats, so they’ll keep getting better.”
Thibodeau said the way this Knicks team approaches training/game prep reminds him of some Patrick Ewing‘s teams.
“Patrick Ewing set the tone for all of that. When you came in [the gym] – could be the middle of summer – he was in there, he was your hardest worker,” said Thibodeau. “When your best players set the tone for the team, that’s special.”
The 2022-23 version of Ewing is Jalen Brunson. Thibodeau said he was reminiscent of some of those ’90s Knicks teams when he first saw Brunson in the gym with his teammates this offseason.
“I hate to say it, but… that’s how their team was,” said Thibodeau, referring to the Ewing and Alan Houston Knick teams in the mid to late 1990s.
Fast forward a few months after that first practice, and Brunson’s leadership and production on the field was better than advertised. In his first Knicks season, Brunson helped lead the Knicks to fifth in the Eastern Conference with five weeks left in the regular season.
He has done it as a goalscorer and as a table setter.
On Wednesday, Brunson had 30 points in the first half on 12-of-14 shooting. He took just one shot in the third quarter, opting to line up his teammates and look for the best shot for any given play.
“It’s easy when you go up 20, 30 to have that mindset of ‘okay, let me be a little more aggressive.’ I’m five points away from my career high, let me go get it,” Josh Hart says. [Brunson] is someone who plays to himself. He is a team-first player. He wants to be successful and he wants his team to be successful. He is willing to sacrifice when necessary; he is willing to make the right play and the right pass and we rely on him for that.”
Brunson has taken on a leadership role in his first Knicks season. The group seems to have adopted its team-first mentality. Look no further than Wednesday, when six Knicks scored at least 13 points.
“We are winning. What’s better than that? Everyone always says they want to be part of a winning team and stuff, and that’s kind of what it looks like. RJ Barrett say. “Just a bunch of good players. You don’t know whose night it will be on any given night. But we always play hard and no matter what, we all cheer for each other.”
Wednesday was Brunson’s night. But he was not alone. Quentin Grimes had 22 points in 26 minutes, hitting six of nine three-point attempts. In total, New York hit 20 of 35 threes.
Afterwards, there was a lot of laughter and laughter in Knick’s locker room. Some of it happened when Grimes was doing his postgame interview.
“Laughed a lot,” he said. “Everyone is just nice to be around.
“….The last 20-something games, people clicked, bought, didn’t worry about individual things. I’m just worried about what they can do to help the team. And you see it there every night on the field.