The snickers were loud enough to be heard over the blaring car horns on 34th Street in front of Madison Square Garden. Not even two months into his first season as Knicks coach, Tom Thibodeau had already figured out a way to shoehorn Derrick Rose and Taj Gibson, two of his most trusted soldiers dating all the way back to their days together in Chicago, on to a young team that was unexpectedly competitive in the Eastern Conference.
Here he goes again, getting the band back together.
Thibs has heard those chuckles before. In the case of his faith in Rose, he has heard worse. But what has gotten the coach this far, perhaps the single biggest factor that allowed him to scratch and claw and climb from Salem State University into the NBA, is a supreme belief in, as he likes to say, “what goes into winning.” For the last 13 seasons, a lifetime in NBA years, Thibodeau has believed in Derrick Rose and Taj Gibson.
Julius Randle has been the engine, as Thibodeau called him after a 120-109 win over Toronto on Saturday, that is driving the New York Knicks to a nine-game winning streak and home-court advantage in the Eastern Conference playoff field. Immanuel Quickley’s emergence as a rookie, R.J. Barrett’s steady improvement, Reggie Bullock’s shooting and the team’s collective defensive tenacity have all played prime roles in the Knicks’ resurgence.
And then there are Rose and Gibson, two old Bulls bringing these young Knicks along and validating the faith from their coach that has never wavered, not through injury, age or seemingly diminished skill. Team after team, year after year, Rose and Gibson have always had Thibodeau in their corner. Team after team, year after year, Rose and Gibson keep delivering for him, and it’s made all the difference this season for the revived Knicks.
“We’re giving our all to the team, especially with me coming here — they’ve been doing this ever since I got here,” Rose said. “That’s one of the reasons I wanted to come here because I saw that they’re hungry. A young team like this reminds me of some of my good teams when I was younger. I just try to fit in, see what the team needs and fill that void.”
The last thing Thibodeau ever believed was necessary was validation from the players he believed in for so long. In his mind, he’s been right all along. And not just in New York.