For a while on Wednesday night, it looked like Tom Thibodeau and the Knicks were going to fall into an 0-2 hole against the Hawks.
But Thibodeau turned to the two players on the Knicks roster he trusts the most, and that changed everything.
Rose had 26 points, four assists and four rebounds in 39 minutes. The Knicks outscored the Hawks by 12 in Rose’s time on the floor.
Gibson had six points, seven rebounds, three steals, and a block in 30 minutes on Wednesday. The Knicks outscored the Hawks by 23 points when Gibson was on the floor.
Thibodeau started Rose and Gibson in the third quarter (Rose started the half in place of Elfrid Payton, who started at point guard but was pulled after the first five minutes of the game). New York outscored Atlanta 32-18 in the third quarter to eliminate a 13-point Hawks lead.
“I just wanted to change it up,” Thibodeau said of inserting Rose and Gibson into the lineup to start the third quarter. “I thought we had to do something different and that’s why you have a bench. Those guys came in and played great.”
Thibodeau pushed the Knicks to sign Gibson and trade for Rose during the season. In some ways, they were two of Thibodeau’s best moves as coach this season, a year in which he’s one of the favorites to win Coach of the Year.
Including Wednesday, the Knicks are 22-11 in games Rose has played.
The 32-year-old reflected on his place in the game after the Game 2 win.
“I’m just appreciative to be in the league. there’s a lot of guys that are my age, that are a little older, that still feel like they can hoop, there’s younger guys than me who are out of the league and feel they want another opportunity,” Rose said. “My job is to play as hard as I can and do it for them guys. I’m very fortunate to be in this position — not only am I in the league, but I’m on a great team. They allow me to come here and play the way that I play. That’s all any player can ask for.”
In turn, Rose has given the Knicks all they could’ve asked for.
RANDLE SETTLES IN DURING SECOND HALF
Julius Randle shot 0-for-6 in the first half of Game 2. The Knicks trailed by 13 at the half. It was a nightmare scenario for New York and its All-Star forward.
“Obviously we were disappointed in the way he played in the first half but he’s a fighter,” Thibodeau said.
Randle made a three on the Knicks’ first possession of the second half, made a few hustle plays, and seemed to settle in.
He finished with 15 points, 12 rebounds, and four assists.
“I thought as the game went on, he started to see things better and as is the case with Julius, each game he’ll get better,” Thibodeau said. “He’s seen all these defenses before. Just be patient, keep moving, make the right plays, make the right reads, create good offense for us. He’s commanding a lot of attention, which is opening up other things for us.”
NOEL SLOWED BY ANKLE AILMENT
Nerlens Noel was questionable coming into Game 2 because of an ankle injury. He played 17 minutes and had five rebounds but he seemed to be limited by the injury. Noel’s ankle was heavily taped and one team source said Noel played with significant discomfort in Game 2. The gesture was appreciated by Noel’s teammates. His ailment is something to keep an eye on as the series moves to Atlanta.
Speaking of Knicks centers, Thibodeau made it sound as if Mitchell Robinson isn’t close to returning to the court.
“He’s still several steps away. He’s doing well overall. Good steady progress. We’re not taking any chances with him. He’s got to go step by step,” Thibodeau said. “He’s doing a little bit but not much. Then the first step is doing individual stuff, then he has to be cleared for team practices. We’re just going to be patient and go through the process.”