What’s Behind The Knicks’ Upturn In form This Season?

There’s the famous saying that every dog has its day. Without wanting to disrespect the mighty and historic New York Knicks, this could well be the story of not just their day but their whole NBA season.

That’s because something has definitely happened to jolt the Madison Square Garden residents into action with some predicting their first NBA Championship win in over five decades.

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But it’s the question of what exactly has come about to see this surge in form and which has them riding high in the NBA Finals odds which, at the start of May, held them as fourth favourites behind the Celtics, Timberwolves and Thunder.

The Season So Far

From the very start of the season, there seemed there was new fire in the bellies of many of the players and a whole different attitude to the game.

Their first game saw them up against arguably the toughest opponents of all – the Celtics. Yes, they lost in that encounter but at 108-104 it was a tight game that could really have gone either way. But next week they were on winning form beating the Hawks 126-120.

As the season progressed a familiar pattern developed. They would win a few games in a row and then lose a couple. Their worst losing streak came at the start of February with four losses in a row. It’s a mark of the resilience of the team that they were able to regain form by March and went on to finish off the season with a five-game string of wins. This culminated in a dramatic overtime victory which they won against the Bulls 120-119.

Their final win/loss record was 50/32, a small but significant improvement on the corresponding 47/35 figure for the previous season when they did make the playoffs but were beaten 4-2 in the Eastern Conference semi-finals by the eventual runners-up, the Heat.

Key Players To The Season

More than anything, it’s the players that make up a successful team and there are three in particular who have formed the backbone of this season’s Knicks. It may be no coincidence that they were all part of the 2016 Villanova Wildcats championship team, something that earned the team the nickname the Nova Knicks going into this season.

The players in question are Jalen Brunson, Donte DiVincenzo, and Josh Hart. The three played together at college in Villanova and were even roommates while they were there.

After going their separate ways – Brunson to the Mavericks, Di Vincenzo to the Bucks and Hart to the Jazz, now they have been reunited. At times is seems like there’s an instinctive bond between the three on the court that has never been broken over the years with an almost psychic understanding of how the play will go.

A look at the figures for the trio speaks for themselves. Leading the way, no surprise there is Jalen Brunson. Over the season he has averaged over 28 points per game along with 6.7 assists.

DiVincenzo has been running at about 15.5 points per game with a 40.1% strike rate for 3-point field goals.

Meanwhile, Hart has been a player doing more of the donkey work as a small forward but has still managed to muster over four assists per game.

It’s also a testament to the quality of the team overall that, following star forward Julius Randle’s season-ending shoulder dislocation at the end of January, others have stepped up to fill his place. 

Into The Playoffs

The efforts and successes of the season led to the Knicks being made second seeds in the Eastern Conference, an achievement that has eluded them for quite some time now.

In the first round they found themselves matched up against the 76ers and already seemed to have started to make NBA history. In the second game against the Philly team it was only the fourth time in the modern era that a team in a playoff came back from trailing by at least five points in the last 30 second while also winning in regulation time.

Jalen Brunson has also become only the third player ever to enjoy four consecutive playoff games scoring over 35 points and participating in over five assists. He joins some elite company in the shape of LeBron James and Michael Jordan.

The Thibodeau Effect

Of course, when examining the resurgence of the Knicks special mention must be made of coach Tom Thibodeau. It’s been a steady improvement ever since his arrival in 2020. He just seems to be able to get the very best out of his players to create a winning formula.

But now he faces the acid test. Could he finally have put the right team together and might the stars at last align to take them all the way? We’ll be finding out very soon indeed.

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