From the moment the Knicks appointed Tom Thibaudeau their new coach in July, their defense had in need of an upgrade.
But there was no guarantee that tangible change would happen – and the gains that followed – would come so quickly.
The Knicks left New York on December 27 after winning their first win of the season, a surprise defeat for the Bucks. They returned Tuesday as winners from four of the last five participants in a Wednesday night’s showdown against Park Jazz, with plenty of vigorous efforts fueling their rise but the defense chief is among them.
“I think teamwork is a big part of it.” Thibaudo said afterwards, “I think wanting to share the ball, and play hard for each other. On Monday, 113-108 wins over the Hawks. “[But] It starts with defense and rebound. We still have to lower our turnover but I only think in the general way they play for each other. I think that’s a big part of winning. They come and work every day. “
Last year, under David Wiesdale and then interim coach Mike Miller, the Knicks earned a Defensive Rank 23 in the NBA (112.4). With seven games this season under Teibodo, they have earned their ninth best defensive rating in the NBA (106.1).
During their last five matches, they faced competitors well below their average score – albeit in a small sample size. They held the Bucks, who otherwise averaged 127 points, to 110. They followed that up by holding Cavaliers (107.5) to 86, Raptors (107.2) to 100, Pacers (117) to 102, and Falcons (120) to 108.
“The important thing is that if you stand up and get the ball back and you are interested in the ball, you are in a position to win,” said Thibaudo.
Of course, it’s not just defense that led the Knicks to win three of four on their road trip. There were major performances from newcomers and remaining alike as the Knicks started off on their best start with seven games since the 2012-13 season:
“Quivers”: The backcount combo for Immanuel Quickley and Austin Rivers is still very new, but impressive enough to actually land a title via social media. Both were on the ground for a rough time on Monday against the Hawks – Rivers at the last 17:06 and Quickley at 15:09 of the 15:51 Final – to help turn a 15-point deficit into a five-point win.
Rivers played a strong defense against Tri-Young and drained a triple-pointer late with a sharp pass from Quikley, who scored 16 points.
“We kind of play against each other offensively,” Quickley said. “He’s also good in terms of defense.” “So it makes playing with him very easy on both ends of the earth.”
King Julius: Julius Randall played another game on MondayHe scored 28 points, 17 rebounds and nine assists. His struggles last season were well documented, but he improved a lot early this year as he spent heavy minutes.
Randall said: “I think men believe in a coach and believe in his mission and play for each other, play hard, and play together.”
Flexibility: The Knicks spent a lot of time with the lead during their four wins, but they came out of a 15-point deficit in the third quarter on Monday to end the road trip dramatically.
“It starts with Thibs and then it goes down,” said RJ Barrett. “Everyone who participates in the game is playing with strength and playing with an advantage.”
Shooting hiccups: Anomalies during the five-game period? The Knicks shoots 3 to 36 from the rear against the Raptors. Across the other four games, they combined to shoot 49-100. This includes only one game from Alec Burks, who was expected to be one of the best shooters.