New York Tough


The New York Knicks have taken the league by storm and are poised to reach and potentially even make a run in the NBA Playoffs. (Courtesy of Twitter)

Colin Loughran , Contributing Writer

At the time of this article, the New York Knicks are 9-1 in their last 10 games against a myriad of opponents, including the Dallas Mavericks and Atlanta Hawks, who should almost certainly be playoff-bound. No matter what happens in the final two games of this Knicks homestand as they battle the high-powered Phoenix Suns and scrappy Chicago Bulls, one fact will not change a bit: This is the best Knicks team that New York has seen in almost a decade, as they have accumulated the franchise’s longest winning streak since 2013

This season’s Knicks have defied tradition and managed to carve out a remarkable season that should end in, at least, a trip to the NBA playoffs. Boasting a superb defense and timely offense, the Knicks should feel supremely confident as the season winds down and even more hopeful for the seasons to come.

When one starts to analyze the 2020-21 Knicks, it is impossible to overlook their stellar defensive prowess. Individuals such as Julius Randle, Obi Toppin and Nerlens Noel have each subtly contributed to the team’s success on defense. But, while the individual defensive statistics may indeed be somewhat average, it is the total team numbers that jump off the page. 

At the moment, the Knicks hold the second-best defensive rating in the Eastern Conference. They also have, on average, allowed the least number of points and field goals made in the NBA. These stats tell you everything you need to know about this year’s Knicks defense. There isn’t one particular star that can reliably keep opponents out of the paint or block every shot. Instead, New York has been blessed with a group of gritty, “nose to the grindstone” players that are willing to work together and play solid team defense. 

In today’s offensively-driven NBA, the Knicks are an utter nightmare and a complete throwback to ’80s and ’90s basketball. The impact of head coach Tom Thibodeau cannot be understated, as he has gotten his players to buy into his take no prisoners style of play. Thibodeau has drawn high praise from guards R.J. Barrett and Derrick Rose, with the former claiming he should receive serious Coach of the Year consideration and the latter insisting that he has greatly improved as a coach from their previous stints together in both Chicago and Minnesota. Success starts at the top, and Thibodeau has been an integral part of building a culture of winning basketball.

On the other side of the ball, there is more of the same, with a slight twist. Much like their defense, the Knicks play offense as one, sometimes slow, cohesive unit. Of all the NBA squads, New York currently ranks dead last in fast break points. In other words, this is not a team that is going to get out and run. Thibodeau and company would rather employ a half-court offense that slowly but surely eats away at opponents until the final buzzer sounds. Due to this, none of the Knicks offensive stats are particularly scary. However, this brand of ball has allowed certain players that were previously written off to shine in the NBA. 

Forward Julius Randle is a prime example. Previously thought to be an average player who never fully lived up to his Kentucky pedigree, Randle has been experiencing a renaissance this season. Along with becoming a more reliable defender, Randle has greatly improved his three-point game, becoming a legitimate offensive threat. 

Just last week, Randle dropped 44 points with six three-point makes in a win against the Mavericks. Randle has been dominant, but unbelievably, he is just one of many on the Knicks roster who could suddenly step up offensively. By running a slower, more patient offense, players such as Barrett, Immanuel Quickley and Reggie Bullock all have the opportunity to step up and help the team win. This is precisely what has happened throughout this magical season.

While I, along with many others, still feel that the Brooklyn Nets, barring injuries, are the class of this year’s Eastern Conference, it is fully possible that the Knicks could make a Cinderella run come playoff time. They play with an intensity that I am not sure can be matched by any other teams in the East. With the Boston Celtics, Miami Heat and Milwaukee Bucks all having their fair share of flaws, the Knicks could end up in a playoff matchup against the rival Nets, especially if the Philadelphia 76ers have a typical playoff meltdown. 

While I won’t dare say that the Knicks should be favored over the Nets in this New Yorker’s dream of a matchup, I will say this much: If the Nets are the pretty, flashy and popular side of New York that people have come to expect, then the Knicks are the gritty workmen and front-line workers that are willing to fight unnoticed until the last second. The Knicks personify “New York Tough,” and I’d say that is pretty hard to beat.