The New York Knicks have been the laughing stock of the NBA for nearly a decade. In turn, Madison Square Garden has transformed from the “Mecca of Basketball” to a cupcake stop on every NBA team’s calendar they can circle as an easy win.
But no longer.
The Knicks are back in the playoffs this season after a lengthy hiatus, and this spunky, defensive-minded group is ready to make some noise in the Eastern Conference. When was the last time New York made the postseason?
Knicks clinch a playoff berth
The Knicks entered the 2020-21 NBA season with little excitement surrounding the team. New York fans were eager to watch RJ Barrett grow as a player, and Obi Toppin represented a fun rookie addition to a roster lacking any elite athleticism, but they were still keeping their expectations at a reasonably low level.
Many also wondered how new head coach Tom Thibodeau would mesh with the young core. His hard-nosed, no-nonsense style of coaching didn’t seem like the right fit with a bunch of 20-somethings trying to find their way in the league.
But boy has it worked out.
The Knicks have completely bought in to Thibodeau’s defensive approach in his first season with the team. New York is holding opponents to 104.9 points per game this year, which is the best mark in the NBA. They may not be as talented as the other top teams in the East, but the Knicks more than make up for it with effort and discipline on a nightly basis.
Barrett has made an impressive jump in his sophomore season. Derrick Rose, whom the team acquired in February, looks like his old MVP self at times. Immanuel Quickley, not Toppin, has been a revelation as a rookie off the bench.
Oh, and Julius Randle has vaulted into stardom out of nowhere.
On Wednesday night, the Knicks clinched a long-awaited playoff berth thanks to the Boston Celtics’ loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers, snapping one of the longest postseason droughts in the NBA.
The Knicks last made the playoffs in 2013
Before 2021, the Knicks had recorded seven consecutive losing seasons. They went through six head coaches over that same span. Another season without a playoff berth would’ve marked the longest postseason drought in franchise history.
But the Knicks are back, baby.
New York will return to the playoffs this year for the first time since 2013, when Carmelo Anthony was still running the show in MSG. The Knicks went 54-28 that season and reached the Eastern Conference semifinals before losing to the Indiana Pacers in six games.
This year’s team is drastically different than the one from eight years ago, but the 2021 Knicks aren’t satisfied with just a playoff appearance.
Julius Randle: “We not close to done”
You might think the Knicks would be thrilled with a postseason berth and nothing more in 2021. After all, they don’t have any true superstars on their roster, and they aren’t expected to be able to compete with the 76ers, Bucks, or Nets in the East.
But this team is fearless. They embrace the challenge and thrive against the toughest competition. And above all, they believe.
“Check it off the list, Knicks. We not close to done,’’ Randle tweeted Wednesday night after they clinched a playoff spot.
New York currently occupies the No. 6 seed in the Eastern Conference with three games remaining on the schedule, but it’s only a half-game behind the Hawks for the No. 4 seed. The Knicks will either face the Bucks, Hawks, or Heat in the first round depending on how the final few games shake out.
They might not be the most talented team in the East, but no one will want to play the scrappy Knicks in the postseason this year.