There was so much going on last Thursday—from injuries to the All-Star reserves announcement—that we left some stuff off our Friday edition of the Knicks Bulletin and had to make up for it in today’s column before the ball tips-off late Saturday with LBJ coming to town and hooping in his favorite arena, the Mecca.
Here is what current and former Knickerbockers said in the past few hours, as well as some comments shared by coach Thibs after Thursday’s win.
On Jalen Brunson dealing with Indiana’s defense and beating the Pacers...
“They were very aggressive in terms of double-teaming, and [Brunson] didn’t stop moving and he found ways to get the ball back and make plays. He scored. He distributed. He just kept going.“
“You just love his competitiveness. He never goes away. The mental part is so, so good, and you can say that for the team. And obviously, we’re thrilled about him becoming an All-Star.”
On Brunson not getting foul calls as much as he should...
“Well, most of us could tell [it was a foul]. It’s bang-bang, but it’s like—the guy, his resolve is so great. He takes a beating.”
“[Brunson] needs to be protected. There were several plays in which he got hit, and if it’s a foul, it’s a foul. Call it.”
“At that point in the game (when Brunson got a ball stolen following a non-call after getting smacked in the face), it’s just... what can you say? He comes right back on the next play and hits an and-1.”
“Referees sometimes are not perfect. None of us are. So they miss it, they missed it. Move on. And that’s what I like about Jalen. He goes to the next play. And I think that’s critical.”
On Precious Achiuwa, Isaiah Hartenstein, and Josh Hart combining for 47 rebounds against the Pacers on Thursday...
“I thought they gave us great minutes and a lot of toughness. The rim protection was really good. I thought Precious—he had a tough matchup all night (against Pascal Siakam). Initially, we didn’t know how much he was going to be able to play at the four, and he’s doing a terrific job.”
On installing a next-man-up mentality in his teams where everybody can contribute something...
“When people go out, (I want players) to have the mental toughness to be ready, to step in and get the job done. Everyone is capable of playing great defense. Everyone is capable of rebounding. Everyone is capable of sharing the ball. Everyone is capable of playing smart.”
“The readiness of the guys that are coming in, I think is huge. Most teams go through [injuries forcing changes], and mental toughness is a big part of that, how you handle adversity, and to come out in a positive way, I think that makes you stronger.”
“Each day, don’t feel too good about yourself. Just get ready for the next day. Get ready for the next team, because the best thing about this league, if you love competition, is that you’re going to get challenged each and every day. It should bring out the best in us.”
On Brunson leading the Knicks to winning games even while shorthanded...
“We have an All-Star and MVP-caliber point guard with us. We play together and we’re going to keep going. When you play that way, you’re tough to beat.”
On Tom Thibodeau’s coaching principles...
“[Thibodeau] brings out what the guys have and he demands it every single day. Whether it’s a practice day, whether it’s a shootaround, he demands it every day.”
”You start to see guys that maybe (at) other places that they’re not demanding it every single day, so you don’t see it brought out of them.”
”You’re not going to get on the court here if that’s not your identity. Everybody on this roster has that identity. So when he demands it every single day, that’s all you see. It’s a credit to him just staying on us every single day and not getting too high, not getting too low.”
“The thing you can say about Thibs, no matter what, he’s always going to be prepared. He’s going to have everybody prepared, top to bottom of the roster, because you never know with this league. How the NBA works is you never know whose night it is.”
“[Thibodeau] is always going the extra mile to make sure everybody is prepared. That’s what he’s been doing for so long. That’s a credit to him. That’s why we’re in the position right now—because he has us prepared every single day.”
”Those games where guys go out [or] you’re playing against a struggling team? It doesn’t matter. Every game’s like a playoff game to Thibs.”
On pulling off a 15-point comeback against the Pacers and earning a come-from-behind victory...
“We were down, we stayed with it and we came back and a lot of guys stepped up in general. The group of guys we got, the coach we got, we don’t feel we’ll ever give up no matter how big the [deficit] is.”
On the Knicks' collective effort to hound as many rebounds as possible on a nightly basis...
“The ball comes off the rim, and we just all try to get it. It’s a collective effort. Just knowing that rebounding wins games, too—we take pride in that.”
“Big ups to Precious and Josh, the way they’re playing on the board and defensively.”
On former Villanova Wildcats teammate Jalen Brunson getting his first All-Star game nod...
“What a feeling it was [Thursday] night being able to see Jalen being announced as [an All-Star] during starting lineups. Felt like a proud older brother. The kid just works and deserves all the love he is getting.”
(Jalen Brunson calls Josh Hart)— New York Basketball (@NBA_NewYork) February 1, 2024
Josh: "What do you want?"
Jalen: "…I'm doing an interview…If you were guarding me how would you stop me?"
Josh: "…You're gonna do 14 pivots & shot fakes before you shoot…jump into people…get fouls."
Jalen: "So basically you can't."
Jalen Brunson & Josh Hart
On Thibodeau and the Knicks combining to build this season’s winning mentality and culture...
“It’s a mixture (of Thibs and the players), but it really starts with him. Everyone sees Thibs always yelling, but he always makes sure we’re ready to go.”
”He’s done a great job—not just this month, but since I’ve been here; since I’ve known him.”
In an interview in which Brunson called Hart live to ask him how he’d guard him (h/t @NBA_NewYork)...
Josh: “What do you want?”
Jalen: “I’m doing an interview. If you were guarding me how would you stop me?”
Josh: “You’re gonna do 14 pivots and shot fakes before you shoot, jump into people, get fouls.”
Jalen: “So basically you can’t.”
Josh: “With you being able to play so well off two feet it’s tough... At some point, I’m gonna jump.”
Jalen: “I’m letting you know this is really professional of you. I’m really happy that you’re maturing.”
Josh: “You didn’t hear my first answer—it cut off.”
Jalen: “What was your immature answer?”
Josh: “I said smack the sh*t out your fatass head.”
Jalen (hears Josh’s wife laughing in the background): “Yo, Shannon! It can’t be that funny!”
Obi Toppin (Indiana Pacers Player)
On his return to MSG as a member of the Pacers and what he expected from the fans in the stands...
“I hope it’s a good reaction, but for me I’m just happy to be back here and to get to play again in this amazing arena and to be back in front of these amazing fans. Just having that opportunity is a blessing.”
”I’m definitely hoping I can have something similar to RJ and Quick, but more than anything, I’m just glad to be back home.”
“I feel like our season is going really good. We’re a bunch of young guys who know our role. We know how to play together and are having fun out there.”