MIAMI — After a season filled with questioning his rotations and starting roster, Tom Thibodeau expressed concern that the media and social media tried to drive a wedge between his team by pitting player vs. player.
The central theme of a season gone wrong revolved around relentless questions about whether some guys were getting enough playing time.
Should the 2020 lottery pick start with Obi Toppin over Julius Randle? Should point guard Kemba Walker have been benched for winger Alec Burks?
Why aren’t more young players saving time? Where’s rookie Miles McBride? Are the Knicks better off with injured Randle?
Thibodeau finally had enough after the Knicks’ thrilling 111-103 win over the first-place Heat on Friday night when point guard Immanuel Quickley and three McBride rookies Quentin Grimes and Jericho Sims sparked the comeback.
Asked about the explosion of the young guns, Thibodeau went on the defensive and the press conference veered in an unexpected direction.
“You’re trying to nitpick this, nitpick that,” Thibodeau said. “You need everyone in a season. Thibodeau added that every player is vital – naming others who didn’t have the same impact on Friday, RJ Barrett, Burks, Mitchell Robinson, Randle, who didn’t make the contest.
“It’s a team, not an individual thing,” Thibodeau said. “I can’t take a boxscore afterwards and say how many people watch until the end of the match to really know exactly what happened in the match. I see a lot of opinions but I don’t see any guys doing work to actually study it.’
Thibodeau, the 2021 NBA Coach of the Year, was probably not referring to the full-time beats writers covering the team, but to the Knicks’ line of fan podcasts and what’s proudly called ” Knicks Twitter” – arguably the most forward-thinking fan conglomerate on the social-media spectrum.
“That’s where we are in society today. Social media,” Thibodeau said. “Look, hey, it’s part of the game. We like it. He drives the game. It’s as popular as ever. But for me, I don’t like anything that eats away at the fabric of the team.
“And so people want to take a game, whether it’s a win or a loss and they’re like, ‘Well, this, this and this. A guy can make a good play in the game, and he has nine bad plays. Or conversely, he makes nine good games, and he has a bad game.
Sources said Thibodeau was most offended by claims he abused Walker, who eventually shut him down on star break, and accusations that he stunted Toppin’s growth due to a lack of playing time.
Thibodeau’s reference that a player could make a brilliant play and a bad nine could be a reference to Toppin, who hears “O-bi” chants after a showboat dunk.
“I’m just saying everyone has all the answers right after a game and often they haven’t studied,” Thibodeau said. “And I don’t want anything to divide our team. I want our team to be united. That’s how you win — as a team. You lose as a team.
“So when I see things written or people talking about this, that. You hear it all the time and then when you actually study it and watch the game again and maybe watch it a third time, you really know what happened.
It’s not unusual for a head coach to hit out at the media for their doubts, but it was odd to come after arguably the most impressive win of the season that kept their season alive, although barely. After road victories in Charlotte and Miami, the Knicks (32-42) travel to Detroit for a Sunday morning five games away from the final play-in slot.
That the Knicks kids spurred the win and won two in a row minus Randle, Thibodeau probably imagines, will prompt more talk that he needs to get younger.
Quickley, who played with 20 of his 23 points in the fourth quarter, said his teammates are used to the forum.
“No, social media will always be social media,” Quickley said. “The best players in our game have been ridiculed on social media. Someone will always have an opinion. It’s not necessarily true or false, but you can’t get caught up in that stuff. Social media is something you can’t control, so you just try to move on.