Home News Kristian Winfield: Knicks’ Tom Thibodeau continues to put Coach of the Year...

Kristian Winfield: Knicks’ Tom Thibodeau continues to put Coach of the Year ballot to shame

It’s funny when you think about it.

Tom Thibodeau finished fifth among his peers in Coach of the Year voting, an award rightfully claimed by Oklahoma City Thunder coach Mark Daigneault, who captained the youngest team ever to both win 55 games in a season and secure to the No. 1 seed in either the Eastern or Western Conferences in NBA history.

Daigneault ran away with the league honor, taking home 89 of the 99 first-place votes to create 315 points worth of separation between himself and the runner-up, Orlando Magic head coach Jamahl Mosley.

Mosley had an admirable season, leading Paolo Banchero and a Magic team with just one player over age 29 to the East’s No. 5 seed.

So did both Chris Finch, who coached Anthony Edwards and the Minnesota Timberwolves to one game shy of the West’s No. 1 seed, and Joe Mazzulla, whose loaded Boston Celtics finished seven games better than the West’s No. 1 seed and 14 games better than the next-best Eastern Conference team.

That team is the Knicks — Thibodeau’s Knicks — who miraculously claimed the second seed in the East despite a barrage of injuries and a pair of mid-season trades.

If Thibodeau’s regular-season success in the face of adversity doesn’t reinforce his status as a top-three coach of the year candidate snub, consider what he’s done in the playoffs, as he’s positioned these Knicks one game shy of their first trip to the Eastern Conference Finals since 2000.

There is no reason Thibodeau should not have finished top-three in Coach of the Year honors. He has turned water into wine, pushing a depleted, injury-riddled Knicks roster beyond its limits to put it on pace for one of the best single seasons in franchise history.

It’s no wonder the Knicks, reportedly, are preparing to offer Thibodeau a long-term — and lucrative — contract extension to stay at Madison Square Garden.

After all, Thibodeau powered the Knicks to the No. 2 seed despite a wave of injuries that would have wrecked a number of seasons elsewhere.

In fact, the Knicks have taken a 3-2 series lead over the Indiana Pacers in the second round of the playoffs despite missing four key rotation players to injury entering a pivotal Game 6 in Indiana on Friday.

  • Mitchell Robinson suffered a stress fracture in his left ankle on Dec. 8, costing him three-and-a-half months of regular-season action, then returned with a handful of games remaining on the schedule, only to end his season on another stress reaction in the same ankle in Game 1 against the Pacers
  • Three-time All-Star Julius Randle — who averaged 24 points, nine rebounds and five assists per game in the first half of the season — ended his year on a dislocated right shoulder in a an. 27 matchup against the Miami Heat
  • That was also the last game OG Anunoby played before discovering inflammation in his right elbow. Anunoby ultimately underwent a minor procedure that sidelined him for a month-and-a-half. He  then aggravated the elbow injury within three games into his return to action and missed another stretch of games after the All-Star break
  • And Bojan Bogdanovic’s season ended on a gruesome ankle injury in the first round against the Philadelphia 76ers

Now it’s Anunoby with not an elbow, but a hamstring keeping him off the floor, yet Thibodeau’s Knicks have decisively outplayed a Pacers team they would have already advanced beyond had Andrew Nesmith, who entered the fourth quarter of Game 3 with zero points on six shot attempts, not cashed-in on a buzzer-beating, 30-foot heave for the win in Indiana.

Thibodeau finished with two first-place votes for Coach of the Year, 14 second-place votes and seven third-place selections for the highest single-season coaching honor in the sport.

He also finished first in an anonymous poll among players asked to name the coach, aside from their own, they would least like to play for.

Thibodeau’s players, several of which are enjoying career years in New York, stuck up for their coach, and Josh Hart did it again, defending his coach from criticism suggesting culpability for the injuries plaguing the Knicks in the playoffs.

If anything, Thibodeau pushed the Knicks forward in spite of the missing bodies, and while he might not have any end-of-the-season hardware, or finalist status, to tout, he is captaining a Knicks team perpetually defying the odds, relentlessly moving forward toward the best season it’s seen this century.

“You expect ignorance when people have no idea what goes on in this building,” said Josh Hart. “At the end of the day,  people are going to say things for clicks. People are going to say things that make them feel like they stuck it to him. But at the end of the day, they are not in this building, they are not in that locker room. Whatever they say doesn’t mean anything. Put any of those guys in this position and see what they do.”


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