Although a playoff berth isn’t a likelihood for the Knicks despite their four-game winning streak, RJ Barrett, Mitchell Robinson, and Tom Thibodeau vow that the team will fight until the end.
NEW YORK, N.Y. — With six games remaining and a play-in spot just 4.5 games away, the New York Knicks have been playing their best basketball. They extended their win streak to a season-high four games against the Chicago Bulls at home after sweeping their most recent road trip. Along with the resurgence of Alec Burks in recent games coupled with the continued dominance of RJ Barrett, the Knicks are looking to finish the season strong.
The ‘Bockers sophomore duo—Immanuel Quickley, and Obi Toppin—are also experiencing their very own late-season renaissances with excellent play. New York still hasn’t been mathematically eliminated from playoff contention and their chance of getting into the tournament is a long shot, but that has not deterred them from closing out with a push.
Mitchell Robinson opened up about the team’s fighting spirit after their latest victory. “We’re just playing hard. We want to see what we can make out of the rest of the season so we just want to make something happen,” he said. It’s an encouraging sign that they are continuing to play hard in a season filled with should’ve-could’ve-would’ve scenarios. Robinson knows this and affirms that he and his teammates will keep competing until they can’t anymore.
For a team that’s been searching for an identity all season, Robinson may have perfectly encapsulated what they’re trying to become. “We’re some fighters, we want to fight, we want to compete, we’re ready to go… [we can’t] just stop trying to play hard,” he said. “We want the team to fight.”
The players that have willed this team to its recent stretch of success look to be here for the foreseeable future so even in a season that looks to be a loss cause it’s important that they figure out who they want to be going forward. Barrett, who has been on a tear since January, is now officially averaging 20 points per game for the first time in his career and is quickly becoming the leader of the team.
“First of all, we fight, we fight no matter what, we’re a really good team,” Barrett said. “We are disappointed with how we started the season, but we are a very good team and we are playing out these wins. We are scratching and clawing and playing very well, so when you have something like that you try to build on it.”
The message is becoming clear and it’s imperative that it stays consistent. Last season, the Knicks were known as a defensive team—they made teams earn wins with a hardnose style of play. This season, though maybe a little too late, they seemed to found their niche. “We Fight” feels like an appropriate motto and it might be a good one when things are looking as bleak as they are and finding a way to get results is paramount.
Barrett recognizes the growth in himself and his younger teammates, he spoke highly of his core mates and what they’ve been doing. “Him and I have just been growing up, Obi [Toppin] as well, trusting the process, Quick has been playing well over the past 15 or 16 games and he’s just been doing his thing,” he said. “We are happy to see that and his development as a player, he’s seeing the court more and he’s seeing a lot of things, just another added weapon on the team.”
IQ & OBIIIII pic.twitter.com/nKe1gt1L3H
— The Knicks Wall (@TheKnicksWall) March 29, 2022
The Knicks have never had a collection of young players with so much potential at once. If they continue to develop at their current rate, they can be a force in no time. The franchise would be wise to prioritize their development and continue to supplement them with complementary players as they work towards their prime. Splitting the season series with a formidable opponent like the Bulls shows tremendous growth after dropping their last two matchups against them.
Although he has been a point of frustration for fans this season, Tom Thibodeau has realized how important the development of his young players is. Next year will be his third year as New York’s head coach and if he doesn’t want another setback like this season, he needs to invest in his young players if he hopes to maximize his chances for success.
Thibs sees the value in young guys playing for something and opened up about it. “We are playing all these young guys and they are getting valuable experience and you’re never eliminated until your eliminated and I don’t want a quitting spirit on our team,” he said. “I want to keep fighting and until we are eliminated, we are going to keep fighting and so we have a number of guys who are growing and that is what we are trying to do.”
Like Robinson and Barrett, their head coach compared the Knicks’ mindset to a fight. The fact they are using the same verbiage to describe themselves means they still have some sort of cohesiveness and understanding. This can’t be ignored because after such an up and down campaign, a coach’s message can become stale and players will sometimes mail it in. It seems like the Knicks have resisted this as they seem to be finally hitting their stride.