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Tom Thibodeau after season finale: “There’s been a quantum leap"

The Knicks wrapped up their season by dropping a glorified scrimmage

Indiana Pacers vs New York Knicks, 2013 NBA Eastern Conference Semifinals Set Number: X156541 TK1 R2 F641

Your Knicks lost a basketball game on Sunday.

Your Knicks will play again on Saturday. Be happy.

New York (47-35) hosted the Indiana Pacers (35-47) on Sunday afternoon at MSG and wrapped up their season with a 136-141 loss to the visitors. It’s the second loss in a row, but just the second in the last seven games the Knicks have played.

No team was playing for anything with New York already locked into the no. 5 seed in the East and Indy tied for the seventh-worst NBA record with the Wizards.

In other words: one of these two teams is going to the playoffs, and the other one is trying to inch closer to Wemby.

That’s why your Knickerbockers didn’t start Julius Randle (left ankle) or Jalen Brunson (right hand).

That’s why coach Tom Thibodeau didn’t give anyone more than 37 minutes, with three of the starters (Obi Toppin, RJ Barrett, and Immanuel Quickley) all leaving the floor right after reaching that figure.

That’s why Miles McBride and Evan Fournier combined for 24 minutes, evenly split into 12-minute stints for each.

“I think from the start of the season to where we are now, the focus has always been on daily improvement,” coach Thibs said. “When you look at where we ended up, or where we are right now, there’s been a quantum leap.”

In fact, the 47 wins are the second-most in the past 22 NBA seasons of New York hoops, only behind the 2013 campaign in which the Knicks cooked themselves a 54-28 record on their way to their last playoffs win—other than the loner against the Hawks a couple of years ago—a 4-2 series victory over the Celtics.

The Pacers had Bennedict Mathurin—a rookie—leading them with 26 points. Toppin did the same for the Knicks, hitting 34 points and nailing 13-of-23 field goals and 5-of-10 treys.

“Everybody’s locked into winning games. Thibs is just pushing us every day to get better and get to these playoffs,” Toppin said after the game. “I feel like we’re ready, but we have five days to prepare and know them better than they know us.”

Mitchell Robinson failed to reach the double-digit plateau scoring only nine points, but he made up for that by grabbing a team-high 20 rebounds and falling just one shy of tying his career-best(s).

Speaking of big boys and big names, Randle watched the warm-ups from courtside, didn’t have a walking boot on, and Thibodeau said that the forward is “making good, steady progress” ahead of his re-evaluation next Thursday after missing the final five regular-season matchups.

“Just the next step, following the protocol progression,” Thibodeau said before tip-off. “He’s shooting, but no contact or anything like that. But he’s doing well, overall.”

Although available, Brunson was ultimately left out of the gameday squad for “precautionary” reasons, with no need for the Knicks to risk a thing when it comes to JB.

The backcourt pairing of IQ and Quentin Grimes combined for 52 points, 10 rebounds, 10 dimes, and a couple of steals. It was Quickley’s second game with 30+ points, 9+ rebounds, and 7+ assists. It was Grimes’ ninth consecutive game with 14+ points.

The Knicks, though, were atrocious on D allowing Indiana to shoot 51.7% from the floor and an even better 55.9% from three-point range.

“Definitely haven’t guarded the way we wanted to,” Quickly said after the game. “We feel like [defense is] what we hang our hat on, so we have to get back to that. Especially with the matchup coming.

“[Defense] has to be our main focus,” Quickley finished.

“Defense was an issue,” coach Thibs said.

Thibodeau shared some other thoughts after the loss to the Pacers, saying that the challenge every year is “to come back from the prior season” and see “how quickly can you adapt and get everyone onto the same page.”

Obviously, the Knicks have boasted a very different starting lineup this season after adding former Dallas Maverick Jalen Brunson to their rotation last summer. “Jalen has been seamless. It was a big part of what our needs were in terms of controlling and managing the team. Jalen brings out the best in everyone,” Thibodeau explained.

Cleveland is the only team New York will have to focus on for the next month, with the first-round series between both franchises tipping off next Saturday, April 15.

“I feel like we’re ready,” Toppin said.

“We’re not done yet,” Brunson claimed.

“We’ll try to focus on the matchup. We’ll focus on the task at hand. We’ll get locked in,” Barrett added.

Isaiah Hartenstein completed the rare 82-game season on Sunday, appearing in all regular-season matches played by the Knicks and joining a select 10-man group this season led by Mikal Bridges with 83 games played after spending his campaign in Brooklyn and Phoenix.

Tari Eason, Deni Avdija, and I-Hart are the only players with 82 games and 1,600+ minutes played while starting fewer than 10 percent of them in the past four seasons. Steve Kerr tops the all-time list with four super-reserve campaigns to his name.

Hartenstein is the first Knickerbocker to play in all 82 games since Justin Holiday did it in the 2017 season and the 16th since the start of the 20th Century. Only Allan Houston and Shandon Anderson went on to achieve the feat twice from the year 2000 on while donning New York threads.

The Cavaliers will have home-court advantage over the Knicks after finishing the season ahead of New York on an overall-record basis. The Cavs, though, dropped their in-season series to the Knicks 1-3 and their victory over New York took place on the second-to-last day of October.

Evan Fournier started and played 28 minutes then and there. Cam Reddish got 16 himself. Derrick Rose hoisted five shots bagging three in 14 minutes of play. In other words, too many things have changed since then.

“You play 82 games, it tells you a lot,” started Thibs. “At the conclusion of the season, you know exactly where you stand. And then you get ready for whatever is next.

“So the next step for us are the playoffs,” continued the coach. “I think we’ve made great strides, but this is a greater challenge and it’s the next challenge that’s in front of us. So, we gotta tackle it. We gotta understand how important studying is, preparation is, and go from there.”

Next game is in a few days. The date: Saturday, April 15. The place: Cleveland, OH. The time: 6:00 pm ET. Don’t miss it, cause it’ll be entirely different.