Thibodeau shows when he's mad at his Knicks. They don't mind, knowing the coach has them set to win

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New York Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau reacts during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Brooklyn Nets, Friday, April 12, 2024, at Madison Square Garden in New York. The Knicks won 111-107. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

NEW YORK – The New York Knicks know when it's coming.

When they throw a careless pass that leads to a turnover, or hoist a bad shot that ruins a possession, their coach is likely standing on the sideline with arms in the air, furious he's just witnessed such careless miscues.

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Like any coach, Tom Thibodeau doesn't like mistakes but unlike others in the NBA coaching ranks, he doesn't bother hiding it from the nearly 20,000 people in the arena watching.

“I mean, I’ve played for a lot of animated coaches in my life,” New York guard Deuce McBride said. “He might take the cake.”

The Knicks players say they don't mind. They know that along with an occasional Thibodeau tantrum, there's also the enormous planning and preparation he provides that has helped them take a 2-0 lead over the Philadelphia 76ers heading into Game 3 on Thursday night.

Some NBA coaches spend much of a game yelling, but most times it's at the referees. Rare is the coach who so demonstratively shows when he's mad at his own players.

Many may chastise players during timeouts, or wait until they're back in the privacy of the locker room at halftime. But Thibodeau reacts immediately when he's seen something he can't stomach.

Thibodeau isn't sure why it's a topic of discussion and is incredulous when asked about his unusual sideline manner.

“What are you expecting, a celebration?” he says.

His players expect the unexpected from Thibodeau — even if they don't always see it.

“Sometimes you don’t even notice it, because no matter what’s going on over there, he’s going to say something,” All-Star point guard Jalen Brunson said.

Josh Hart doesn't bother glancing toward the bench when he knows Thibodeau will be glaring back at him.

“Nah, I don’t really look at him too much. I hear him. Damn sure hear him," Hart said.

“Sometimes you can’t help but hear him. But I let Thibs be Thibs,” Hart continued. "He’s going to yell no matter what, so I’m the kind of guy it doesn’t really affect me if he yells, because I’m going to play my game how I play my game no matter what. So I don’t look at him.”

Brunson chuckles as he reflects about it, as does McBride. They are Thibodeau's type of players, second-round picks who embrace tough coaching — or anything else that leads to team success.

The Knicks have had more of it under Thibodeau than anyone else in a quarter of a century. They won a playoff series last year for the first time in a decade. They are halfway to doing it again, winning 50 games and earning the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference despite playing without their entire starting frontcourt of All-Star Julius Randle, OG Anunoby and Mitchell Robinson for a large part of the season.

Brunson's arrival in the summer of 2022 has led to much of that success, but he's not spared Thibodeau's wrath. Nor is he bothered by it. His father, Rick, played for the Knicks when Thibodeau was an assistant and was his assistant in Chicago and now in New York, so Brunson has known the coach since he was young.

“I think yes, he’s passionate, but the one thing we all understand is that he’s prepared,” Brunson said. “So he’s not really yelling at you for some BS or something that probably didn’t happen or whatever. He’s more proactive versus reactive, so it’s never really something that as a player we can be like, ‘I didn’t do that, or this hasn’t happened yet.’ Like, he’s preparing us.”

Yes, but NBA players often expect to see no reaction at all. They know they messed up and don't need the coach to call attention to it.

Monty Williams, whose Detroit Pistons were a turnover-prone team that had the NBA's worst record at 14-68, recalls his grandmother once telling him he needed to tone down his reactions during a game and remembers that when he wants to flip out.

“Sometimes I’m ashamed at some of the things I may be thinking,” he said. “I try, because at the end of the day as a believer in Christ I want to treat everybody with a great level of respect and dignity no matter what they do on the court. So that’s my motivation as to why I do it.”

The Knicks don't expect Thibodeau to tone it down. McBride, who endured Hall of Fame coach Bob Huggins' tirades at West Virginia, assumes that's what the players have signed up for.

“We’re all grown,” he said. “If there was something we didn’t like we would have approached him, but I mean, it’s no harm, no foul.”

The Knicks have reached the playoffs three times in four seasons under Thibodeau after getting there only three times in the previous 16 years. The two-time Coach of the Year is still seeking his first title and has to prove his demanding style works in the playoffs.

But so far, there's no reason for Thibodeau or his players to question it.

“Often times, it’s one play that’s the difference between winning and losing, and mental mistakes right now could be the difference between moving on and going home,” Thibodeau said. “So your concentration level is so important. Using good judgment is so important.”



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