Is Knicks’ Tom Thibodeau running his players into the ground again?

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Oct 28, 2022; Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA; New York Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau reacts in the second quarter against the Milwaukee Bucks at Fiserv Forum. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

New York Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau has been notorious throughout his career for playing his starters heavy minutes and failing to sit them when games become out of reach. While he’s dialed back on such an approach in recent years, it seems the tactic may be resurfacing in the early portion of the 2023-24 NBA season.

Knicks: Tom Thibodeau Has Seen All Types of Leads Disintegrate in His Career

Kristian Winfield of the New York Daily News shared this quote from Thibodeau on why he played his starters until the waning moments of their blowout win over the San Antonio Spurs last week:

“In this league, no lead is safe,” Thibodeau said. “I’ve seen it all. I’ve seen 13 points in 35 seconds. So people will tell you ‘ah he needs to get the starters out of there.’ Yeah? Well I know what experience tells me.”

Tracy McGrady’s 13 points in 35 seconds is an anomaly that has only been rivaled on a couple of occasions in NBA history — including Reggie Miller’s famous eight points in nine seconds against the New York Knicks in 1995. Outside of that, blowout leads inside of clutch time are usually safe.

Nevertheless, bearing witness to such a miraculous comeback as McGrady’s assistant coach has led to Thibodeau being cautious of all forms of late-game surges.

Thibodeau’s Coaching Then and Now

Thibodeau’s approach cost his Chicago Bulls a chance to advance to the NBA Finals in 2012 after then-reigning MVP Derrick Rose injured himself with only seconds to go in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference first-round series against the Philadelphia 76ers. He was raked over the coals for keeping his foot on the gas without reason.

It has not been all gas, no breaks for him this season, but their game against San Antonio was well out of reach prior to the 1:28 mark, which is when he decided to take his guys out. In juxtaposition, Thibodeau was kind to his starters and rested them in Sunday’s win over the Charlotte Hornets.

Certain situations call for starters to remain in even with comfortable leads. The Knicks have not had any debilitating injuries surface as a result of Thibodeau’s style of coaching, yet, and so long as it does not remain a persistent trend, the Knicks should be fine moving forward.

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