Tom Thibodeau doesn’t like change, but the New York Knicks’ coach does like winning.
The Knicks will look to build off a uniquely constructed victory when they host the Boston Celtics on Saturday night in the first matchup of the season between the longtime rivals.
Both teams will try to win the second game of a back-to-back set. The Knicks overcame a 12-point, fourth-quarter deficit Friday to edge the host Philadelphia 76ers 106-104. The Celtics fended off a late comeback attempt by the visiting Chicago Bulls to earn 123-119 victory.
The Knicks snapped a three-game losing streak and prevailed for the first time this season against a team projected to be in the NBA’s upper echelon. New York’s four losses have come against the Memphis Grizzlies, Milwaukee Bucks, Cleveland Cavaliers and Atlanta Hawks.
The Knicks might have fallen to the undermanned 76ers — who were without stars James Harden (foot) and Joel Embiid (non-COVID illness) — if not for Thibodeau’s constant tinkering with the lineup.
The coach made his first change of the year with the starting lineup, swapping out Evan Fournier — who entered Friday having started all 87 games he’d played for the Knicks since last season — for 22-year-old second-year player Quentin Grimes.
Grimes managed just two points, one rebound and one assist in 15 minutes.
In the fourth quarter, with New York center Mitchell Robinson out due to a right-knee injury he sustained in the first period, Thibodeau went small with power forwards Obi Toppin and Julius Randle playing together.
Toppin scored 13 of his 17 points in the fourth and sank the go-ahead 3-pointer with 1:27 left. Randle went 4-for-4 from the foul line in the final half-minute and wound up with 17 points, 10 rebounds and five assists.
“He’s going to put us in positions where we’re going to be successful,” Knicks guard Jalen Brunson said of Thibodeau. “We’ve just got to execute, and he found something tonight. We rolled with it and came out with a win.”
Meanwhile, the Celtics emerged with a bit of revenge against the Bulls, who handed Boston its most lopsided loss of the season, a 120-102 drubbing on Oct. 24.
Jayson Tatum had 36 points, 12 rebounds and six assists on Friday night for the Celtics, whose 14-point, fourth-quarter lead was cut to 117-115 with a minute left. Tatum went shot 3-of-4 from the foul line down the stretch to help ice the win.
Malcolm Brogdon, who added 25 points off the Boston bench, also made two free throws in the final seconds.
The victory gave the Celtics a boost following a pair of recent overtime losses to the Cleveland Cavaliers, who topped Boston 132-123 on Oct. 28 and then 114-113 on Wednesday.
“That’s something that we’ve talked about a lot recently,” Tatum said about the narrow losses. “(Bouncing back is) the sign of a good team, and we talked about that at shootaround. And to go out and do it on the same night shows our growth.”
–Field Level Media