Basketball

Knicks starters log big minutes in preseason win over Pistons

Wednesday night, on its own, meant nothing. The result wouldn’t impact the Knicks’ record or play any role in their season.

Good luck telling Tom Thibodeau that. He treated it like so much more than that, playing his starters big minutes, railing at the referees, living and dying with every play and giving his players an earful at some loose defensive possessions.

“Everything matters to me — everything that we do,” he said afterward. “For us, we’re an organization that’s building right now. We want to get established. Our fight is continuing every day, and I love the fight in our guys.”

The demanding, hard-driving Knicks’ coach certainly acted like it. If an observer didn’t have a calendar, it would have been impossible to know this was a mid-October basketball game by watching the home team’s coach. And Thibodeau’s players followed his lead, tightening up their play and rallying past the Pistons, 108-100, to improve to 3-0 in the preseason, and 6-1 under Thibodeau’s watch in games that don’t count.

Julius Randle, who scored 29 points, shoots a jumper during the Knicks 108-100 preseason win over the Pistons.
Julius Randle, who scored 29 points, shoots a jumper during the Knicks 108-100 preseason win over the Pistons.
N.Y. Post: Charles Wenzelberg

“I don’t wanna rest, I wanna play,” Derrick Rose said. “I wanna catch my rhythm. Just get used to the ball being in my hands.”

In the final few minutes, star forward Julius Randle dove for a loose ball. Thibodeau won a coach’s challenge. This isn’t how most teams operate during the preseason, preferring to rest their stars and get their young players game experience.

The Knicks obviously treat these games differently, even if Thibodeau rested starting point guard Kemba Walker on Wednesday. He reinserted his starters halfway through the fourth quarter after they played most of the third, and that included Randle, who took a few knees to his left quad and had it wrapped at one point in the game. Four of his starting five played at least 31 minutes.

Taj Gibson celebrates after hitting a 3-pointer in the Knicks' preseason win.
Taj Gibson celebrates after hitting a 3-pointer in the Knicks’ preseason win.
N.Y. Post: Charles Wenzelberg

“Every game is gearing towards the real thing, so that’s what it’s about,” said Randle, who had 29 points, 11 rebounds and five assists in 33 minutes. “Actually, I’m happy we had a game like this where we weren’t shooting well and weren’t in a great rhythm and had to figure it out. So it’s a good test for us mentally to get ready for the season.”

That’s not to say Wednesday night went according to plan. Thibodeau didn’t like the Knicks’ defense in the first half. They were outplayed for a majority of the opening three quarters. Afterward, Thibodeau talked about the difference in intensity from the preseason to the regular season to the playoffs, and how far his team still has to go. He needed to go back to his starters to pull out the victory.

“We can’t fool ourselves into thinking that we’re ready,” Thibodeau said. “Being honest with ourselves, looking at the film, understanding why we either won or why we’ve lost, and to focus into that improvement is critical each day.”

This is the same approach Thibodeau took last year, when the Knicks surprisingly made the playoffs as the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference. They got there mostly based on effort and tenacity, by defending on a nightly basis and outworking their opponent. Nothing has changed. Thibodeau has repeatedly said they have to start from scratch this year, like last year’s success didn’t happen, and he’s operating in the exact same manner. His players have come to expect 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. “Thibs is definitely different. But that’s why we are who we are, as far as the culture and how we play every night.”

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