Press "Enter" to skip to content

Mike Lupica: How good are Tom Thibodeau’s Knicks? We’re about to find out vs. rival Heat

The back story with the Knicks and Heat is tremendous, without question, and not just because of the shadow of Pat Riley over the whole thing. But the bigger story, at least around here, is this, and in the form of a question:

Just how good are the Knicks?

Of course, all of the stuff from the time machine is big fun, about big memories. You know how easy it is for the Knicks fans around a quarter-century ago to remember the ending of Game 5 of Knicks vs. Heat at the Miami Arena, and not just Allan Houston making his shot to put the Knicks ahead, but then Jeff Van Gundy chasing ref Ed T. Rush even after the game was over, because Rush had allowed Miami’s Terry Porter to catch and take a dribble and shot — all with just .8 left in Miami.

“We’re celebrating in the locker room,” Dave Checketts said. “And we can’t find our coach, because he’s still coaching.”

And that’s just one piece, you know it is, if you remember what a time we had in the ‘90s at the Garden, and the glory years we had, even if the Knicks twice came away empty from the NBA Finals.

This time the Knicks and Heat go at it in the second round, not the first, and the Knicks feel like the only game in town even in the week when Aaron Rodgers hit town for the first time, and we really are about to find out just exactly how good Tom Thibodeau’s Knicks are, and how big the story can get.

Maybe we will find out that this version of the Knicks is a little bit like the 2017 version of the Yankees, when their timetable moved up and they had a rising of their own, and came within one win of going back to the World Series. In so many ways, that Yankee team was ahead of its time. Maybe this Knicks team is, too. We just need proof over the next couple of weeks, certainly more than they gave us against a weak-willed Cavaliers team.

Again and again: We know all about the history of Knicks vs. Heat. And, let’s face it, Thibodeau has history of his own going here, and skin in the game because of when his Bulls teams couldn’t get past the Heat when Thibodeau was first in Chicago and doing the kind of coaching job he’s done here. He has history with Jimmy Butler, too, you bet he does, because Thibs coached Butler for four seasons in Chicago before they both left town. Now he goes up against Butler, who turned into the baddest man on the planet in the last two games the Heat just played against the Milwaukee Bucks.

Thibodeau coached under Van Gundy. Van Gundy coached under Riley. So did Erik Spoelstra. Van Gundy’s brother, Stan, coached the Heat once. There is more of what feels like family intrigue than in “Yellowstone,” or “Succession.”

It’s still back story.

We all know how long Knick fans have waited for another moment like this, at this time of year. But as much as their team has done, as much noise and life as they’ve brought back to the Garden, all they’ve done so far is win the franchise’s second playoff series in this century. Absolutely they outplayed and outworked Cleveland. Absolutely Jalen Brunson continued to be a star, and Josh Hart continues to look like the best in-season trade the Knicks have made since Dave DeBusschere. That is saying a lot. But Hart, another old Villanova guy the way Brunson is, has given them a lot.

Now we find out how much more the Knicks can give their fans, if they can beat the Heat team that just beat the (wounded) No. 1 seed and play themselves into a shot against the Celtics or the 76ers.

The Heat got ahead of the Bucks the way they did because Giannis was hurt. But Giannis was back by the end of it, except that he wasn’t the best player in the gym any longer because Butler was, scoring 56 in Game 4 and then coming back with 42 in Game 5, one of the very best back-to-back shows in NBA playoff history. Even people in outer space know the Knicks haven’t made it this far in 10 years. The Heat, though, they were in the NBA Finals three years ago, against LeBron and the Lakers. And showed against the Bucks they still know how to do it.

Julius Randle is injured for the Knicks, no way of knowing what he gives them in Game 1, or after that. But the Heat lost Tyler Herro in the Bucks series, and then lost Victor Oladipo after that. But Brunson keeps elevating his team, even if not to the extent that Butler did against Giannis and the Bucks, to the point where the Bucks gave up at the very end the way the Cavs finally gave up against the Knicks.

One other thing we are about to find out is who is going to be the best player in the gym in this series, just because at this time of year it sometimes comes down to that if the sides look even, which is the way they look now.

So now we see about Thibodeau’s Knicks, how much game they really have, see if everything is ahead of schedule, for Brunson and Barrett and Hart and Randle and the big guy, Mitchell Robinson; for all of them. The Knicks matter again, in a way they haven’t in a very long time. We all saw the way the Garden scared the Cavaliers all the way to the team bus. It might not be quite as easy with a tough out like the Heat, assembled by Riley and coached up by Erik Spoelstra, who’s on his way to the Hall of Fame.

Game 1, Sunday at one at Madison Square Garden. Knicks vs. Heat. Thibodeau against Spoelstra, the way it was twice in the playoffs, once in the conference finals, when Thibodeau coached the Bulls. There were too many years when the Garden had already gone dark for basketball at this time of year. Not this year, and not this Sunday. It would have been fun to see the Knicks go up against Giannis. Not as much fun as this.


There is no question, none, that Aaron Rodgers won the press conference the other day.

Now we’ve got five months to wonder about how many games he’s going to win for the Jets.

And by the way?

It’s a very cool thing that he chose not to wear Namath’s number.

Aaron Judge turned 31 the other day.

By any measure he is either just entering his prime, or is already in the middle of it.

So, there ought to be some urgency with the people in charge at Yankee Stadium, starting with the owner, about not wasting Judge’s prime the way the Angels — with far more futility — are wasting Mike Trout’s.

It was six years ago that Judge and the Yankees were within that one win of going back to the Series.

That’s still as close as No. 99 has gotten.

My pal Barry Stanton says that every time he hears a college quarterback is a generational talent, he thinks about Andrew Luck.

As terrific as Trae Young can be when he gets as hot as he did against the Celtics in Game 5, I keep thinking he’s going to be playing somewhere else next season.

Every time I think about how little it apparently takes for Kawhi Leonard to sit out even the biggest games for his team, I remember the two ice packs, ice packs the size of basketballs, on Patrick Ewing’s knees after all the big playoff games he ever played for the Knicks.

Here is one more thing about which Jeff Van Gundy reminded me when we chatted the other day:

How bad Patrick’s knees were by the time the Knicks got to that Game 5 against the Heat in ‘99.

And how, as memorable as Allan Houston’s shot was to win it, Patrick was the best player on the court that day.

By a lot.

I can’t tell you how much I love the fact that my pal Curtis Strange calls the LIV Tour “the Member Guest.”

What a wonderful writer Dennis Lehane is, and what a wonderful new novel he has out now, called “Small Mercies,” about the terrible unrest in 1974 in Boston because of school busing.

Lehane writes the way Steph Curry shoots.

Who wouldn’t sign up right now for LeBron vs. Durant in the Western Conference final?

All those mock-draft guys did about as well Thursday night as the New York Rangers did on Thursday night.

I don’t know what’s going to happen with the Mets pitching staff, and neither do you.

But if I had to choose between their batting order and the Yankees’ batting order, I’m going with Buck’s all day and every day.

You know who Tucker Carlson really is?

A media thug who finally got his.

Maybe Carlson can run for mayor of Stupidville next.

If you love tennis, and I do, the thing you are rooting for the hardest these days is good health for Carlos Alcaraz.

“Ted Lasso” just keeps getting better and better.

And better.

To borrow an expression from old Hollywood in reference to Anthony Volpe:

The kid stays in the picture.


Source: Berkshire mont

Be First to Comment

    Leave a Reply

    %d bloggers like this: