Bedlam in New York as Knicks poised to end 7-yr playoff drought

Alder Almo
New York Knicks, Spike Lee
Oct 25, 2019; Brooklyn, NY, USA; American actor and director and Knicks fan Spike Lee reacts during the fourth quarter between the Brooklyn Nets and the New York Knicks at Barclays Center. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

It was supposed to be a season of tanking. But instead, the New York Knicks are fighting for homecourt advantage in the playoffs.

The Knicks fans, who have suffered long enough, whooped it up outside the Madison Square Garden after watching their team clip the Atlanta Hawks in overtime, 137-127, on Wednesday night.

The Knicks (33-27) just extended the league’s hottest streak to eight wins. More importantly, they snatched the fourth seed from the Hawks (32-27).

This is the first time the Knicks are in the top four late in the season since the 54-win Knicks team led by Carmelo Anthony grabbed the second seed in the East during the 2012-13 season. It was the last time the Knicks were in the playoffs.

“You take everything step-by-step. There’s a lot of physical teams in the league, and there’s a lot of talented teams,” Tom Thibodeau said after the gut-wrenching win. “So I think as you head down the stretch here, you want to be playing your best. We try to challenge all our players mentally every day so you’re building the right habits.”

This Knicks team is peaking at the right time.

With 12 games left in their schedule, the Knicks are inching closer to ending a seven-year playoff drought.

Six home games sandwiched by a tough six road games, including against four title contenders in the West (Denver, Phoenix, and the two Los Angeles teams), are still on the horizon. But these Knicks have already overachieved beyond their fans’ wildest dreams.

Las Vegas oddsmakers and most basketball experts have put a 22.5-win ceiling on this Knicks team made up of last year’s core that only won 21 games.

They didn’t add any big names. Only place holder players on one-year deals.

Their biggest acquisition came at the sidelines.

Playoff-tested coach Tom Thibodeau came on board and laid out a foundation built on accountability. Instantly, the Knicks had credibility.

Randle morphed from a tunnel vision scorer and turnover machine into an All-Star and the frontrunner to win the Most Improved Player award.

RJ Barrett used the All-Rookie Team snub and criticisms of his lack of perimeter and outside shot as a motivation. His transformation to a dead-eye shooter and his ascendance as Randle’s running mate has been a revelation.

Derrick Rose is turning back the clock lately. Immanuel Quickley continues to prove he’s the steal of the Draft.

Thibodeau is squeezing everything he can get from Reggie Bullock, Nerlens Noel, Taj Gibson, Alec Burks, and Elfrid Payton. All of them have put their bodies on the line and played their hearts out even without the security of a long-term contract.

“We have a true team. They all play for each other,” Thibodeau said.

It’s been a joy to watch on the court. Even the seldom-used players are animatedly cheering whoever who’s on the floor, running to pick up when a teammate goes down.

When team president Leon Rose handpicked Thibodeau, it signaled the Knicks pivot from desperately hoping for the luck of the lottery draw to charting their own destiny.

But the Knicks are ahead of their schedule.

Instead of tanking, here they are celebrating, thanking Thibodeau for doing an incredible job worthy of Coach of the Year recognition.

“He better be in the running. We all believe in Thibs,” Barrett said. “He’s been doing just a tremendous job in just the way he’s turned everything around, the way he has us playing hard every single night, and we’re getting wins. From him to the whole staff, night-in, and night-out, every day, working hard, just pushing and pushing. It’s just a great feeling. I’m sure the fans see how hard we’re working.”

Yes, they are. The fans are loving every moment of it.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo