NBA postseason 2024: Knicks, Tom Thibodeau pass on tanking for easier first-round matchup


This is going to come off as disrespectful to the Indiana Pacers, and perhaps it is, but the simple fact is that a higher seed in the NBA playoffs is not always a good thing. 

Case in point: The New York Knicks are the Eastern Conference’s No. 2 seed after defeating the Chicago Bulls in overtime on Sunday, which means a first-round matchup with either the Philadelphia 76ers or Miami Heat. Had New York, shall we say, allowed the Chicago game slip through its fingers down the stretch, it would have been the No. 3 seed and set to play the Pacers in the first round. 

Again, perhaps it’s disrespectful to the Pacers to suggest they represent an easier series than the Sixers or Heat, but a case surely can be made. That is even with plenty of people suggesting they have a real shot to upset Milwaukee in the No. 3 vs. No. 6 series. The Sixers with Joel Embiid were a top-shelf contender, and he has hit the ground running in his return. The Heat are, well, the Heat. If you want any part of them in a playoff series, you’re a masochist. 

The league tries to avoid this sort of seed manipulation by scheduling all these games at the same time on the final day of the season. But midway through the fourth quarter, the Knicks knew that Cleveland and the Bucks had both lost and Orlando had won, which secured the Cavs into No. 4 and the Magic into No. 5. The only thing left to be determined was Nos. 2 and 3, and it rode entirely on New York’s outcome. 

So, again, they could’ve, you know, missed a few shots they might’ve ordinarily made (though I’m not sure Donte DiVincenzo could miss if he tried, to be fair), or even played a little more relaxed defense on DeMar DeRozan on potential game-winners at the end of regulation and overtime. 

But that’s not how Tom Thibodeau and these Knicks roll. 

“Competitors compete. It doesn’t matter if it’s a game, if it’s 1 on 1, if it’s a shooting game, if it’s dominoes, if it’s some crazy podcast… they compete,” Thibodeau said. “You don’t have to wind these guys up. And that’s what I love about them. We’re not going to be perfect, but they’re going to compete.”

In other words, the Knicks are going to play to win. 

Always

This is not a team that put itself in position to be the No. 2 seed in the first place by taking its foot off the gas or fearing certain opponents. This is a team full of absolute scrappers. The highest breed of competitors — guys like DiVincenzo and Josh Hart and Jalen Brunson, the Villanova boys who don’t know any other way to play basketball than with their whole heart. 

And we all know Thibodeau is a competitive maniac. The guy would play his best players 48 minutes to win a charity game if that’s what was required. That’s the successful potion of this particular Knicks team. Leon Rose and his front office has paired the perfect roster with the perfect coach. They’re all cut from the same competitive, grind-it-out cloth. They don’t back down, and they sure as hell don’t lose games on purpose. 

What’s interesting is the Cleveland Cavaliers were in a similar position. They entered the fourth quarter of their game against the Hornets with an eight-point lead, and J.B. Bickerstaff chose to keep his starters on the bench for the entire fourth quarter. 

They lost the fourth quarter by 16 points, and the game by 10, and they now will play the Magic in the No. 4 vs. No. 5 matchup when a victory, knowing Milwaukee had lost, would’ve put them at No. 3 for a first-round series with Indiana. 

Perhaps the Cavs didn’t see much difference in facing Orlando or Indiana in the first round, but moving up to No. 3 would’ve meant no potential second-round matchup with the Celtics. If Cleveland really wanted to make a deep run, it would’ve done whatever it could to get to No. 3. But they didn’t. 

The Knicks went the other way, and some would say that’s why they’re a different team. A more dangerous team, even if their first-round opponent has also ended up being more dangerous than it needed to be. 



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