Honestly, the most notable thing Tom Thibodeau said during his postgame press gathering Sunday night wasn’t the four-word mantra he repeated a total of five times, when he was asked his thoughts about whether Jalen Brunson had been fouled on a late-game drive.

Brunson had made a layup but sure looked like he was hip-checked by Oklahoma City’s Luguentz Dort on the play, which means that, theoretically, the back-breaking turnaround jumper the Thunder’s Shai Gilgeous-Alexander made a few moments later should only have sent the game to overtime, rather than give OKC a 113-112 win.

“Write what you see,” Thibodeau said, and then repeated it again, and again, and again.

And again.

And in truth: That’s all the matter deserved. Maybe other members of the NBA elite get that call. Maybe Brunson himself gets that call in the season’s first three months, before the NBA ordered its referees to raise the standard of a foul.

But it was something else Thibodeau mentioned, off-handedly, almost parenthetically, that was the most relevant thing about this playoff-worthy night at Madison Square Garden. He was answering a question specifically about the Knicks’ bench and their troubling habit of surrendering leads.

And then he dropped this in there:

“We have three starters out right now.”

And, no, that doesn’t exactly count as a news bulletin. The Knicks have been without their entire starting front court since Jan. 27, when Julius Randle separated his shoulder. OG Anunoby came back for three games a few weeks ago, but he’s back in witness protection. Mitchell Robinson came back for a couple games last week, but then he sprained his ankle Friday in San Antonio. The Knicks are used to this by now.

What’s unusual is Thibodeau casually lending voice to it. Mostly, he has dismissed this, usually burying such talk with the Knicks’ next-man-up policy, and even within seconds of saying it out loud on Sunday he followed up with a regular stand-by: “We have enough.”

But here’s the thing:

Lately, what’s quite obvious is the Knicks don’t have enough.

Oh, they have plenty to splatter the league’s give-up teams. But Sunday against the Thunder — the first of eight games across the last nine games when the Knicks will play teams who are at least play-in caliber — the absences they’ve managed to counteract for so long became suddenly tangible problems.

It would have been nice, for instance, to have Anunoby guarding SGA — 6-foot-7 guarding 6-foot-6 — instead of the 6-2 Deuce McBride, against whom he was able to easily shoot over and launch the winning shot. It would be nice to have Randle fill the role he did expertly after the Anunoby trade — starting the second and fourth quarters with the reserves — so the Knicks’ offense doesn’t completely slide off a cliff when Brunson is out of the game.

It would be nice to have the Knicks’ top nine whole, quite frankly, to put everyone in their ideal role: Randle as Brunson’s wing man, Josh Hart as an explosive sixth man, McBride instead of Alec Burks as Brunson’s back up. On and on. It’s what Knicks fans have been dreaming about while biding their time for the cavalry to return.

Except this is the most critical question of all in this Knicks season now:

Is the cavalry actually coming?

Thibodeau’s pregame updates of Randle and Anunoby weren’t exactly encouraging — neither seems remotely close to playing yet — and neither was his assessment of the situation: “Just deal with reality day to day.”

It’s good advice. And if we follow it, these are three huge Knicks realities:

1. They have eight games left. Seven of them will be against teams who need wins as badly as the Knicks, and the other will be against the Nets, who’d surely like nothing better than to ruin the Knicks’ day.

2. They have a magic number of only five to clinch no worse than the sixth spot in the East, meaning a combo of Knicks wins and Heat (or Pacers) losses, which should be attainable.

3. If the Knicks were whole, it really wouldn’t matter if they finished anywhere between 3 and 6, because they’d be in great position even without home court.

But they aren’t whole. And it’s fair now to wonder when — or even if — they ever will be. As Josh Hart said postgame: “I’m not in those medical conversations or anything like that, so I don’t know s–t from s–t. We’ve got to approach it every game and the end of this season that those guys aren’t coming back, and if they do be pleasantly surprised.”

The runway is short and getting shorter — only two weeks of season left. It’s always been assumed time was on the Knicks’ side. Not so much now. Not until we know when the cavalry’s coming back.

If it’s coming back.

2024 © Network Today. All Rights Reserved.