It’s been almost a decade since the New York Knicks won consecutive playoff games.
But if everything goes as Tom Thibodeau hopes, the Knicks will rely in the spring on their experiences this week in Chicago.
The Knicks will look to continue surging Sunday afternoon, when they are slated to visit the Indiana Pacers in a battle of longtime Eastern Conference rivals.
Both teams were off Saturday after playing on the road Friday, when the Knicks rolled past the Chicago Bulls 114-91 and the Pacers squandered a double-digit fourth-quarter lead in a 118-112 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers.
The win was the sixth straight for the Knicks, who extended their longest winning streak in two seasons by winning back-to-back games in Chicago. New York outlasted the Bulls 128-120 in overtime on Wednesday night.
Before Friday’s game, Thibodeau said the unusual set of games could serve as a playoff primer for a team with minimal postseason experience. A five-game loss to the Atlanta Hawks in an Eastern Conference first-round series in the spring of 2021 is the Knicks’ lone playoff appearance since 2013, when they beat the Boston Celtics in six games in the first round before falling to the Pacers in six games in the conference semifinals.
The Knicks won the first three games of the series against the Celtics in 2013, when the best-of-seven set opened in New York.
“When you look at playoffs, it’s the intensity of playing the same team over and over,” said Thibodeau, who has coached seven teams to the playoffs, including the Bulls in 2013 and the Knicks in 2021. “You know exactly what they’re trying to do. So then it’s how hard you compete, it’s imposing your will.”
The Knicks did that over the final three periods Friday night, when they outscored the Bulls by 26 points. Afterward, Thibodeau preached another playoff philosophy when asked if he believed New York — whose winning streak is the second-longest in the NBA entering Saturday behind the Memphis Grizzlies’ seven-game run — was the Eastern Conference’s hottest team.
“This game will have nothing to do with Sunday’s game, so the important thing for us is to not feel too good about ourselves,” Thibodeau said. “Usually (when) you start feeling too good about yourself is when you get knocked on your butt.”
The Pacers endured that rollercoaster Friday against the Cavaliers, who are in the thick of the race for the top overall seed in the Eastern Conference. Indiana led for more than 27 straight minutes between the second and fourth quarters and held its biggest lead at 103-90 with nine minutes left before Donovan Mitchell sparked Cleveland’s comeback by scoring 16 points down the stretch, including the go-ahead 3-pointer with 3:41 remaining.
The loss was the seventh in the last 10 games for the Pacers, whose last four defeats have been by six points or fewer against teams that are currently occupying a playoff or play-in spot. Indiana lost to the Brooklyn Nets 136-133 on Dec. 10 before falling to the Miami Heat 87-82 on Monday.
The loss Friday dropped the Pacers (15-15) into a three-way tie with the Heat and Atlanta Hawks for seventh in the East, 1 1/2 games behind the Knicks, who are in the final guaranteed playoff spot.
“We paid a price, a pretty heavy price, and we need to learn from this game,” Pacers head coach Rick Carlisle said.
–Field Level Media