Knicks beat Wizards with spellbinding ball movement and shooting wizardry

knicks, obi toppin

The New York Knicks shot the lights out of Capital One Arena in a dazzling display of firepower to defeat the Washington Wizards, 117-99, Saturday night despite missing their All-Star Julius Randle.

The Knicks hit 24 of 52 three-pointers that would have broken their record 20 made three-pointers, which they did thrice (2011, 2013, and 2018), per Stat Muse. The 52 attempts also would have eclipsed their previous record of 51 attempts they recorded on January 29, 2017, against the Atlanta Hawks, according to Stat Muse.

Kevin Knox and Obi Toppin stepped up in the absence of Randle, who is expecting his second child. The backup power forwards dealt the Wizards the telling blows in each half.

Knox, who had fallen off Tom Thibodeau’s rotation, made the most out of the rare opportunity, scoring 12 points, all coming from beyond the arc and in the first half where the Knicks seized a 13-point lead. But the Wizards recovered from the early trouble and trimmed the Knicks’ lead, 59-55 at the half.

Toppin, who started in place of Randle, battled back from early foul woes and scoreless first half to lead the Knicks’ second-half breakaway. The 2020 eighth pick scored 11 points in the third quarter sparking an 18-2 run that broke the game wide open. His six-point cluster ended in a wide-open three-pointer at the 6:49 mark of the third quarter to put the Knicks in control from a tight 64-62 game.

“A lot of guys stepped in. I thought Obi played really well. I thought Kevin came in and gave us really good minutes,” Tom Thibodeau said. “So that was good to see. I like the depth of our team.”

The Knicks followed up their 26 assists in their preseason debut with 27 as their spellbinding ball movement, and shooting wizardry was too much for the Wizards.

Nine Knicks players hit at least two three-pointers each.

“It’s one of the things that we’ve worked hard at for the last two years and over the summer and also the guys that we’ve brought in,” Thibodeau said. “They’re very efficient at shooting them, so their shot profile is right and then making the right reads. That’s probably the most important thing. The ability to go off the dribble, attack the rim, and made the proper rim read, hit the open man. And when guys make the extra pass, we’re gonna have good rhythm threes.”

Evan Fournier and Kemba Walker added two three-pointers each. Rookie Quentin Grimes came in the final 1:46 and fired back-to-back three-pointers.

But on top of their much-improved offense, the Knicks’ defense hasn’t lost a step. They held the Wizards under the century mark and 38.2 percent shooting.

RJ Barrett led the Knicks in scoring with 18 points on 4-of-8 threes and four assists while shadowing Bradley Beal. The Wizards star scored 14 points on 5-of-13 shooting in 25 minutes. He was held to just three points in the third quarter and didn’t play the fourth quarter as the Knicks’ lead swelled to as big as 24.

Derrick Rose, who tweaked his ankle late in the game, was a perfect 3-for-3 from 3 and totaled 15 points and a game-high eight assists off the bench.

The pair of Taj Gibson and rookie Jericho Sims played solid in the middle for the second straight game, with Mitchell Robinson still recovering from a foot injury and Nerlens Noel nursing a sore right knee.

The 36-year old Gibson had eight points and six rebounds as the starter, while Sims pulled down a game-high 13 rebounds with seven points and three steals.

The Knicks will have a four-day rest before hosting the Detroit Pistons on Wednesday at the Garden.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

New York Giants: Kadarius Toney will be the X-factor in Week Five

kadarius toney, new york giants

The New York Giants‘ offense had a breakout game last Sunday. The Giants earned their first win of the season and improved their record to 1-3. New York’s offense willed them to a thrilling 27-21 overtime victory over the New Orleans Saints. Daniel Jones, Kenny Golladay, and Kadarius Toney developed a chemistry that took the team’s offensive attack to a new level.

For the first three weeks of the season, Jason Garrett and the Giants were criticized for misusing their 2021 first-round pick, Kadarius Toney. The UF wide receiver was not making an impact in the Giants’ first few games. But in Week Four, Toney had a breakout performance that the Giants will want to build on. To beat the Dallas Cowboys in Week Five, the Giants will need to have an explosive offensive performance that sees Kadarius Toney make a real impact.

Kadarius Toney the X-Factor

As good as the Dallas Cowboys offense has been this season, their defense has been equally as bad in some regards.  For example, the Dallas Cowboys’ defense has given up an insane amount of yardage after the catch. The Cowboys give up 190 yards after the catch per game (most in the league).

This is where Kadarius Toney comes into play. Toney is a YAC machine. In college, Kadarius had a 35% missed tackle rate, constantly breaking tackles and creating plays with the ball in his hands. We have seen him produce similarly in the NFL, too.

Kadarius Toney is averaging 7.7 yards after catch per reception this season. 77 of his 92 receiving yards have come after the catch. Toney has forced 6 missed tackles this season on only 11 touches.

The New York Giants are not winning this game on the back of their defense. The Dallas Cowboys’ offense is simply too good. The way that the Giants win on Sunday is by beating a good offense with a good offense. It should be a shootout down in Dallas. The Giants have not scored over 30 points in a long time and that needs to change on Sunday.

Yankees lose starting pitcher to free agency, but it’s likely a positive

andrew heaney, yankees

When the New York Yankees struck a deal with the Los Angeles Angels at the trade deadline this past year, one of the players they got in return was starting pitcher Andrew Heaney.

Heaney, who is 30-years-old and a former first-round pick in the 2012 June Amateur Draft, was on a one-year, $6.75 million deal before joining the men in pinstripes.

At 6’2″ and 200-pounds, Heaney had recorded a 5.27 ERA over 18 games with the Angels. He pitched in 35.2 innings with the Yankees, recording an awful 7.32 ERA, giving up 13 homers and 29 runs. In comparison, he gave up 16 homers in 94 innings with the Angels earlier this past season, showcasing a massive reduction in production and efficiency.

The Yankees offered Heaney an opportunity to sign an outright assignment with the Tampa Bay farm team, but he elected to hit the free agency market on Friday. As one of the only left-handed pitchers in the Yankees’ rotation and bullpen, it is unlikely he would’ve played a big part in the future plans, to begin with.

Now, the team will look forward to the winter months, where they can begin planning for a big free agency market filled with talented shortstops. They also have to make a big decision on skipper Aaron Boone, whose contract is up and waiting patiently for management to make a choice on extending him or letting him go.

New York Yankees: World Series only perfect game: Don Larsen

The New York Yankees Don Larsen, a not-so-perfect pitcher, put his name into the baseball history books yesterday 65 years ago when he pitched the only perfect game in World Series history.

On January 1, 2020, Don Larsen’s son Scott had announced that his father had entered hospice. He stated that his father, a former New York Yankee pitcher, had had treatments for esophageal cancer in recent months but had taken a turn for the worse and had entered hospice care. He died shortly after that in Hayden, Idaho, at the age of 90. Don Larsen holds the record for having pitched the only World Series perfect game in baseball history. I wanted to take this opportunity to post my Don Larsen Legend article that was previously published on November 10, 2019. Here are some excerpts.

Larsen was born in 1929 to a humble family in Michigan City, Indiana. When he was 15, he and his family moved to California, where his Dad was a department store salesman and his Mom a housekeeper. Larsen attended Point Loma High School, where he played basketball and baseball. Although Don got scholarships for basketball, he chose baseball, citing that he wasn’t all that good at his studies. While playing baseball there, he was noticed by a St. Louis Browns scout. He was offered a minor league contract, and he accepted. The Browns eventually became the Baltimore Orioles. Don was assigned to the Aberdeen Pheasants in 1947. He went 4-3 with an ERA of 3.42.

The following season he won 17 games. In 1949 he moved up to the Globe Miami Browns. Soon after, Larsen was promoted to the Wichita Indians of the Class-A Western League in the second half of the 1950 season. With the Indians, Larsen had a 6–4 record with a 3.14 ERA in 21 games. In 1951, Larsen was drafted to the United States Army for the Korean War. He spent the next two years in the Army, working in a variety of non-combat jobs. He was discharged from the Army in 1953 and made the St. Louis Browns roster before the beginning of the season. On April 17, 1947, he made his major league debut against the Detroit Tigers. His first game was a no-decision, but he won his second game giving up one earned run to the then Philadelphia Athletics. In 1954 the Browns became the Baltimore Orioles, where he was 3-21 (that’s not a misprint) with a 4.37 ERA.

In 1954 the Yankees lost the World Series to the Indians, and the Yankee Manager blamed it on the older pitching staff of the Yankees, who were in their late 30’s. Wanting to beef up the team in a 17 man trade, the Yankees acquired Don Larsen from the Baltimore Orioles. Larsen would pitch behind Yankee ACE Whitey Ford. The original deal was to get Bob Turley, but Manager Casey Stengel wanted Larsen in the trade because of how he beat down the Yankee hitters. From 1955 to 1959, Stengel used Larsen as a starter and reliever; during that period, he went 45-25 in 90 starts.

Larsen started the 1955 season with a sore arm, didn’t pitch well, and was demoted to the minors. He ended up pitching in 19 games, going 9–2 with a 3.07 ERA and 44 strikeouts in 97 innings pitched. On August 5 of the year, he would throw a shutout of the Tigers. His best year was 1956, when he went to an 11–5 record, with a career-best 107 strikeouts and a 3.26 ERA. He pitched another shut out, this one against the Orioles. Late in the season, he pitched five complete games out of seven. But these stats were not the highlight of his pitching year.

On October 8, 1956, Don Larsen pitched the only perfect game in World Series history. It was game 5 of the World Series against the Brooklyn Dodgers. Larsen needed just 97 pitches to complete the classic game, and only one Dodger batter (Pee Wee Reese in the first inning) was able to get a 3-ball count. Brooklyn’s Maglie gave up only two runs on five hits. Mickey Mantle’s fourth-inning home run broke the scoreless tie. The Yankees added an insurance run in the sixth. After Roy Campanella grounded out to Billy Martin for the second out of the 9th inning, Larsen faced pinch hitter Dale Mitchell, a .311 career hitter.

Throwing fastballs, Larsen got ahead in the count at 1–2. On his 97th pitch, a called third strike by home plate umpire Babe Pinelli Larsen caught Mitchell looking for the 27th and last out. After the pitch, catcher Yogi Berra leaped into Larsen’s arms in celebration, setting up the “everlasting image” that you can see in my photo collage. Larsen’s unparalleled game earned him the World Series Most Valuable Player Award and Babe Ruth Award.

In 1957, Larsen had a 10–4 record with a 3.74 ERA in 27 games and 20 starts. Near the end of the season, he hurled a 3-hit shutout against the Kansas City Athletics on September 15, his fifth shutout with the Yankees. In seven innings in relief in game 3 of the World Series against the Braves, the Yankees won 12-3. He started game seven but only went 2 1/3 innings in the loss as the Braves won the series. Larsen had another winning season in 1958, although the Yankees did not make the World Series. In 1959 Larsen’s performance dropped considerably, and he was sent down to the minors. In the offseason, he was traded to the Kansas City Athletics.

In his first year with the Athletics, he had his worst year ever but rebounded in 1961, having his best year since 1955 with both the Athletics and the White Sox. From 1962 to 1967, he would play with the Giants, Colt 45’s, Orioles, and the Cubs but would never regain his pitching success. Don Larsen retired from baseball during the 1967 season. Little is ever said of Larsen’s hitting ability, but he was one of baseball’s best hitting pitchers, having 14 home runs and a career .242. In 1956 he had a grand slam against the Red Sox. He was a good enough hitter that he was used 66 times as a pinch hitter. Yankee fans hope to see Don at Old Timer’s Day for years to come.

Don Larsen was present at Yankee Stadium for two perfect games, his own in 1956 and David Cone’s in July 1999. Unfortunately, don passed away on New Year’s Day 2020.

MLB News: The latest update on the 2021 postseason results

The New York Yankees lost to the Boston Red Sox in their wild card match this past Tuesday night, ending their dream of a 28th World Champion for at least this season, but there is still a lot of baseball action for baseball fans as the postseason chugs along.

American League divisional series:

Tampa Bay Rays vs. Boston Red Sox

The Boston Red Sox got to the AL divisional series by beating the New York Yankees in the wild card game. Both the Red  Sox and the Yankees had up and down seasons leading them to have the same 92-70 record. However, with the Sox having a better season record over the Yanks, they got the home-field advantage. On Tuesday night, the Red Sox ended the Yankees season with a 6-2 win.

The Tampa Bay Rays, for other than a short time, have led the AL East all season and dominated all of its AL East opponents finishing the season eight games ahead of both the Yankees and the Red Sox. Nine ahead of the Blue Jays and 48 games ahead of the Baltimore Orioles that lost 110 games this season.

In the first game of the divisional series, the Tampa Bay Rays blew out the Red Sox 5-0. Shane McClanahan was dominant, holding the Red Sox scoreless. The Rays hit two home runs in the win. Veteran Nelson Cruz homered in the third inning, and the incredible Randy Arozarena made history with his home run. He became the fifth player to hit a homer in 19 consecutive postseason games. He also is the first to hit a homer and steal home in the same postseason game.

Game two played last night; the Red Sox bested the Rays by piling on the runs. At the end of the night, it was the Red Sox 14 and the Rays 6. The Sox knocked starting pitcher newbie Shane Baz out of the game. But that was better than the Sox ace Chris Sale; he was out of the game at the end of the first inning, giving up five earned runs. Tanner Houck for the Sox got the win with five innings of one-run ball. For the Sox, it was home run heaven. Bogaerts, Verdugo, Hernandez, Martinez, and Devers all hit long balls in the game.

The series is now tied at one game apiece in the five-game contest. Game three will be on Sunday at 4:07 pm EDT.

Houston Astros  vs. Chicago White Sox

On Sunday, the Houston Astros can claim their ticket to the Championship Series with a win over the White Sox as they have won the first two games against their northern foe.

In game one, Lance McCullers Jr. bested the White Sox Lance Lynn. The Astros got a few small ball runs, and then Michael Brantly got a two-run dinger helping the cause. Yordan Alverez sealed the deal with a solo shot for the Astro’s sixth run in the 6-1 win.

Thursday night’s game two was more of a contest as the White Sox scored 4 runs to the Astros 9. The White Sox struck first in the first inning, but the Astros got it back in the second. Tim Anderson of the Sox tied a baseball record getting 12 hits in his first five postseason games. However, the tide turned for the Sox when the Astros Yuli Guirrel got a two-run homer. Two-run homers followed that by both Carlos Correa and Kyle Tucker.

AL Championship series:

The winner of the Tampa Bay Red Sox series will face the winner of the Houston Astros Chicago White Sox series on Friday, October 15th.

National League divisional series:

San Francisco Giants vs. Los Angeles Dodgers

When the Dodgers won the wild card from the St. Louis Cardinals, they created history by playing in the divisional series against the San Francisco Giants for the first time since they were the New York Giants in 1889. That year the Giants won the World Series by one game over the Boston Beaneaters.

Yesterday was game one against these two western rivals. The Giants scored two runs off the Dodger’s starting pitcher Walker Buehler and the game was over; the Dodgers didn’t know it at the time, but they remained scoreless off of the Giants pitching, the Giants shut them out 4-0. Game two will be tonight at 9:07 pm EDT at Oracle Park in San Francisco.

Atlanta Braves vs. Milwaukee Brewers

As in previous years, the Atlanta Braves have been one of the most successful baseball teams.  The Braves led the NL East by 6.5 games ahead of Joe Girardi’s Philadelphia Phillies. The New York Yankees’ claim to fame is that they won 3 of 4 against the Braves and both games at the Braves home park.

The Braves are playing the Milwaukee Brewers in the divisional series. Game one was yesterday when the Brewers squeaked out a one-run lead in the 2-1 contest. Corbin Burns bested the Braves Charlie Morton. Rowdy Tellez’s two-run homer in the seventh inning sealed the deal for the Brewers. Game two is today at 5:07 pm EDT.

NL Championship series:

The San Francisco Los Angeles series winner will face the Atlanta Milwaukee series winner in the NL Championship Series on Saturday, October 16.

2021 World Series:

The AL and NL Championship Series winners will face each other in the best of seven series starting on Tuesday, October 26th.

Knicks: Obi Toppin gets his chance in Julius Randle’s absence

New York Knicks, Obi Toppin

Obi Toppin will finally have his chance to show what he can do with an expanded role when the New York Knicks face the Washington Wizards Saturday night on the road.

Toppin is likely to start in place of All-Star Julius Randle, who skipped the trip to the nation’s capital due to personal reasons.

Randle also missed Friday’s practice. Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau did not go into details but assured that “it’s for a good reason.” Randle’s wife, Kendra, is reportedly expecting to deliver their second child any time this weekend.

“We have good quality depth, and I want to get a look at some of these guys,” Thibodeau said.

He was referring to Toppin and Kevin Knox, who will split Randle’s minutes.

Toppin played with confidence and was fluid in the Knicks’ impressive 125-104 win against the Indiana Pacers in their preseason opener. He was one of the seven Knicks players who scored in double figures with 10 points and five boards.

Thibodeau was effusive in his praise of Toppin, who is getting more comfortable with his role.

“He’s gotten a lot better,” Thibodeau said. “He’s put a lot of extra time in. But I think more than anything, it’s probably the experience. I thought last year was difficult in some ways for him because of not really having the summer league, a fall, where you can grow into it. And he’s one of those guys that with repetition, he gets a lot more confident.”

Toppin was a late bloomer guy in high school before exploding in his last two years in college. After he looked lost early into his NBA rookie year, Toppin picked up steam in the second half of the season that crescendoed in the playoffs. He followed that up with a stellar Summer League stint.

“I think the game has slowed down a little bit,” Thibodeau said. “I like the way he played offensively. He wasn’t rushing at all and made good decisions. And he’s skilled.”

On the other hand, Knox is fighting to salvage his NBA career after falling off Thibodeau’s rotation last season. The 2018 lottery pick is on the last year of his rookie contract. Saturday’s game gives him a shot at impressing Thibodeau after missing the NBA Summer League due to COVID-19.

Knox scored four points on two aggressive drives after missing a three-pointer in their win over Indiana. He added two rebounds in four minutes of garbage time.

“[Thibodeau] really preaches if your shot’s not going in or having a bad shooting day, what else can you bring to the team?’’ Knox said after Sunday’s practice. “For myself, using my length, using my height and my body to really focus on rebounding and defending on the other end. I really feel I can guard 1-to-4. That’s what he really wants to see from me — locking in on that end.”

“He knows what I can do on the offensive end. He wants to see that defensive energy, the rebounding and really flying in transition and using my length all over the court.”

Meanwhile, Nerlens Noel is back in the lineup after resting against the Pacers. Thibodeau earlier said that a key rotation player would likely rest in each of their four preseason games. This Saturday is Randle’s turn.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

UFC Vegas 39 Preview: Mackenzie Dern – Marina Rodriguez

Tonight in the main event of UFC Vegas 39, we are going to see a pivotal showdown in the strawweight division. Top contenders will battle it out as Mackenzie Dern (11-1) takes on Marina Rodriguez (14-1-2).

Rodriguez will be making the walk for the eighth time in her UFC career. After entering the octagon for the first time a perfect 10-0, Rodriguez has gone 4-1-2 through her first seven fights.

Heading into UFC Vegas 39, she’s on a two-fight win streak. In her last fight, she fought Michelle Waterson, but the two fought at 125 pounds. It was an entertaining fight that Rodriguez pulled off by decision.

Standing across from Rodriguez tonight will be Mackenzie Dern. Dern has everything the UFC is looking for a in a potential star and she’s really coming into her own. Known for her tremendous jiu jitsu, it’s been her striking that has impressed in her last few fights.

After losing her first career fight to Amanda Ribas, Dern has gone on a four-fight win streak. She continues to look better and better and at UFC Vegas 39, she’s going to look to put herself in title contention.

UFC Vegas 39 Prediction

To me, this is a really tough main event to predict. On one hand, you know that if the fight touches the mat at UFC Vegas 39, Dern becomes a massive favorite. Marina Rodriguez doesn’t want to come close to touching the mat against Dern.

That said, will the fight ever get there is the question. Dern is not the best when it comes to landing takedowns. Despite her impressive wins by submissions in the UFC, she’s only succeeding on a little over 10% of her offensive takedowns.

Her submissions have come when others have shockingly taken her down or followed her to the ground. Rodriguez is not going to do this. In her last few fights, Rodriguez has looked like a sniper at range and I expect her to strike from the outside.

You should expect a lot of pressure fighting from Dern at UFC Vegas 39. She doesn’t want this to be a technical striking match because she will lose. She wants this fight in close and best case scenario it touches the mat.

I really thought I’d pick Dern in this spot, but I have a suspicion that Rodriguez pulls this off tonight. I think she’ll be able to land some nice counters and big shots from distance which will be just enough to score a decision. However, don’t be shocked at all to see a Dern submission if the fight goes to the ground.

Prediction: Marina Rodriguez by Decision

How the Giants will likely supplement the potential loss of Andrew Thomas in Week 5

nate solder, new york giants

The New York Giants are preparing for left tackle Andrew Thomas to potentially miss Sunday’s game against the Dallas Cowboys in Week 5. Coming off an extravagant win over the New Orleans Saints last weekend, the Giants would like to build off their success, but a strong Dallas team requires all hands on deck.

With Thomas being listed as questionable for the game, losing him would represent a massive hole on the offensive front. He currently hosts a 79 overall pass-blocking grade, a massive uptick compared to his 54.7 grade last season, per PFF. He hasn’t allowed a sack through four games, stonewalling Cam Jordan last week in arguably his best performance as a professional.

Dealing with a foot injury, Thomas was limping noticeably during practice this week but was able to participate in a limited fashion.

Thomas stated regarding the injury:

“Sore, but I’m doing everything that the trainers are asking me to do. Taking care of it, doing a lot of treatment, trying to get it ready.”

Commenting on his participation in practice, Thomas said:

Good. I was in the rotation yesterday, in the rotation today with (Tackle) Nate (Solder) and (Tackle) Matt (Peart), so we’ll see what happens Sunday.

Projected starting OL without Andrew Thomas:

LT: Nate Solder

LG: Matt Skura

C: Billy Price

RG: Will Hernandez

RT: Matt Peart

In the case that Thomas is forced to miss Week 5, veteran tackle Nate Solder will likely take over at his traditional spot. Solder has spent the beginning portion of the season at right tackle, where he struggled for the most part. Coming off a 2020 season where Solder spent his time from home opting out due to COVID-19, he has allowed two sacks, three QB hits, six hurries, and 11 pressures over 246 snaps this season. Thomas taking such a big leap forward has allowed coordinator Jason Garrett to provide Solder with a bit more help on the right side, but he would have to shift over in the worst-case scenario.

The last time Solder played right tackle was back in 2011 during his rookie season with the New England Patriots. He played in 780 snaps during that year but spent eight seasons beyond that at left tackle, presenting himself as one of the most sturdy options in the league before making his way to the Giants and struggling considerably.

Of course, that would force sophomore lineman Matt Peart into the starting RT spot. Peart has enjoyed all of just 19 snaps this year. All 19 came against the Denver Broncos in Week 1. With little to no game experience this season in the new system run by OL coach Rob Sale, the Giants could be staring down the barrel of a loaded gun if Thomas is forced to miss any time.

Knicks: A new portrait of Tom Thibodeau

New York Knicks, Tom Thibodeau

There is this long-held portrait of Tom Thibodeau as a draconian and gruff coach who runs his players to the ground.

It’s hard to fault anybody who pictured Thibodeau that way after his messy exits in Chicago and Minnesota.

A Karl Anthony-Towns’ no holds barred interview after Ryan Saunders replaced Thibodeau as the Timberwolves coach in 2019 only exacerbated it.

“We think we have the best coaching staff possibly in the game right now from talent, experience, and just culture standpoint,” Towns told WCCO’s Cory Hepola at that time.

Towns added that he was very happy to introduce their then rookies to a family culture, taking a shot at Thibodeau’s all-basketball-and-nothing-else approach to team building.

“You know, I don’t think the situation before it would’ve been very beneficial for them, and that’s a disrespect and a slap in the face to their development, you know, and I want to make sure that they develop not only as players but as human beings and as men. And, uh, you know, that’s what we’re here to do,” Towns added.

“And in Minnesota, the thing, one of the biggest things where Ryan and with me is like, we have to make sure our culture is not based on just basketball. This is a family atmosphere. Everything we do here in Minnesota has to be able to have a family. A family backing and a family thought process. And building people’s personalities, characters and showing them more of themselves. And you’re more than basketball.”

Fast forward to 2021, and Thibodeau has reinvented himself and was back in the playoffs, ending the New York Knicks‘ eight-year playoff drought during his first year. But unlike his flameout in Minnesota, no drama developed. Only a family atmosphere which Towns craved.

Thibodeau did a soul searching following his ugly ending in Minnesota. In an interview with ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, months before he assumed the head coaching post in New York, Thibodeau sounded like he’s changed.

“You learn from your experiences. I think it’s important to ask yourself, what can I do better? You are kind of making a better situation for everybody,” Thibodeau told Wojnarowski.

“We all learn probably more from our mistakes than we do from our successes, and I think that’s part of the equation. And so, I think the biggest thing, as I said, is the league is always changing, and so you want to make sure you’re adapting as well.”

There were trepidations that it was just a mirage. That Thibodeau can’t be the right coach for a young Knicks team. That an old dog can’t learn new tricks. But Thibodeau went into his latest coaching job with an open mind. He embraced analytics. He adapted to the modern style of play, searching for ways to increase three-point opportunities.

But more than the style of play, the change in his approach and management style without sacrificing the long-held beliefs that he dearly valued endeared him to this team. He commanded the total buy-in that he failed to get in Minnesota.  

Derrick Rose blossomed into the youngest MVP in the league a decade ago under Thibodeau’s demanding style. Then he developed into a solid sixth man during their reunion in Minnesota. He found a kindred spirit in Thibodeau.

Rose lived his early years in the fast lane, breathing and eating basketball until injuries changed his perspectives. Now he clocks in the gym and still leaves everything on the court. But once he clocks out, he enjoys his time with his family, especially his kids.

Thibodeau has no family. Basketball has become his wife. His life revolved around basketball. That’s why players who come at night for a shootaround find the lights in Thibodeau’s office still on.

Younger players, who were playing under Thibodeau for the first time, naturally gravitated towards Rose. But even Rose has noticed the not-so-subtle changes in his old coach.

“Yeah [younger players ask me about Thibs], but he throws me off sometimes too,” Rose said with a chuckle. “Like you never know. If anything, I think guys are saying a different side of him this year — seeing him actually crack jokes or like to open up like you know when he doesn’t like you if he’s not talking to you.”

Evan Fournier has extensive experience playing under a demanding coach like Thibodeau. After all, his former coach at Orlando Magic, Steve Clifford, is a good friend of Thibodeau and both coaches came under the coaching tree of Jeff Van Gundy.

“I think he’s exceptional in the work ethic that he installs in practice like the spirit,” Fournier said of Thibodeau. “We’re all tired. We’re all working really hard, but he somehow makes it fun. He knows when to f—k around, joke, smile, and bring a good and positive attitude.”

“And he knows when to be tough, makes sure we go harder, makes sure we understand what he wants from us, and he really demands us to give everything we have on each drill. And when he senses that, you know, not that we’re going through the motion, but we’re not necessarily going after it, that’s when he kind of stops and either asks us to do it again or talks to us and makes sure we go harder.”

Thibodeau has somehow found the balance that was long missing in his coaching.

There was a time when Thibodeau held practices past the traditional two-hour window. Van Gundy once told ESPN’s Ian O’ Connor, now a New York Post columnist, about the longest summer league practice ever. Thibodeau, an assistant coach at that time, was tasked to coach the Knicks Summer League team in the 2000s.

Van Gundy said the practice was scheduled for 10 a.m. to noon, with the second one from 4 to 6 p.m. But Thibs held the first practice until 3:15 p.m. before yelling at players to “Get off your feet. Get some rest. Get something to eat.” Van Gundy was like, “Tom, it’s 3:15. They’ve only got 45 minutes.”

Two decades later, that would make the players revolt against the coach that could lead to dismissal. In an era when the league has become younger and player empowerment has grown so much bigger, Thibodeau has shed his old skin to get buy-in.

“So for him to open up,” Rose said after Friday’s practice. “And just like he ended up practice. We were still supposed to be on the court for like another half an hour or hour. But he cut it short just so that guys can get recovery. Back in the day, he wasn’t doing that. He was trying to maximize all the time that we had on the court because he wanted to win so bad. So it’s great to see him actually like adjusting, learning, and just knowing that it’s just a different league now.”

“The kids in the league now, they’re different. There’s nothing wrong with it. It’s just that basketball is in a different place. You look at the tempo of the game, it’s changed. So guys need that recovery, and you need that energy to go out there and play the way that the game is being played right now.”

During his second sabbatical, Thibodeau visited teams around the league and learned something new from his coaching fraternity. He couldn’t believe when Doc Rivers, the Los Angeles Clippers head coach at that time, was holding practice for their young guys while the older guys were getting treatment and recovery.

“The league never stays the same. It’s always evolving and changing. And you want to make sure you’re keeping up with the times,” Thibodeau said in Wojnarowski’s podcast.

Thibodeau looked in the mirror and had an awakening. He realized his mistakes and vowed to be better when the next coaching opportunity came. And he made good of that promise evolving into a warmer and friendlier coach in his return to New York.

“Him being aware of it, that’s the biggest thing. Like sometimes you know how it is you want something so bad that you overlook the little [things], the nuances of like what got you there. And for him to be aware of it and to be able to catch it like that’s huge. I think it’s huge for the team,” Rose said.

But some things never change. Thibodeau’s trademark maniacal work ethic is still there, which this Knicks team has fully embraced.

Immanuel Quickley is one of the young guys in the team whom Thibodeau said the Knicks player who’s spending the most time in the gym.

“Every time I come here at 9 o clock, 10 o clock, he’s always in his room waving to me. So it’s great to have somebody to have a coach that’s putting just as much as time spending just as much as you. You want somebody that’s dedicated to their craft, who’s going to push the group to be the best as they can be and as individuals to be the best they can be. And that’s a big thing why we appreciate him,” Quickley said after Friday’s practice.

Mellowed by time and softened by experience, the new Tom Thibodeau has managed to push the right buttons to accelerate the Knicks’ timeline. It’s the old school and new age of coaching intersecting in between Seventh and Eighth avenues from 31st to 33rd Street that made Madison Square Garden a basketball paradise again. It has rejuvenated both the franchise and Thibodeau’s career.

“A lot of people think Thibs is crazy, but you know he’s more normal to me coming from coach Cal (John Calipari),” Quickley said, which elicited laughter from reporters. “So you know it’s great to have somebody like I say all the time, that pushes you, challenges you mentally, physically every day to be the best you can be. That’s what you want especially coming in the first year, second-year guys.”

“I think more of the coaches around the league are more you know kind of subtle how they come to the game or maybe like kind of relaxed but coach Thibs is going to push you to the max and that’s what you want.”

Perhaps it’s time to change Thibodeau’s long-held portrait to a liberal and friendlier coach who pushes his players to reach the summit.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo