LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 06: Tom Thibodeau of the Minnesota Timberwolves laughs on the sidelines during the first half against the LA Clippers at Staples Center on December 6, 2017 in Los Angeles, California.
(Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

The New York Knicks scored a massive first win for Tom Thibodeau on Sunday, but the real work is just beginning.

Danny Small

The New York Knicks flipped the script on Sunday night against the Milwaukee Bucks. After losing Tom Thibodeau‘s first two games as head coach, the Knicks responded with a statement victory over Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks.

With that said, the Knicks are still a long way away from where they need to be. Following their opening night loss to the Indiana Pacers, Thibs told reporters you either “win or learn” in the NBA. The Knicks are going to be doing more learning than winning this year, but the victory of Milwaukee is a good sign.

This game needs to be a building block towards something bigger. In recent seasons, the Knicks have won these kinds of games — stealing a win against a championship contender — but they didn’t build off of them.

“We’re not going to get carried away with one win,” Thibodeau told reporters via Zoom after the game. “I think you can’t lose sight of the work part of it. We always say that the magic is in the work, and it really is. I think you improve incrementally and as long as we’re putting the work into it, we’ll get better.”

Bucks Win Leads To Nothing

For whatever reason, the Knicks tend to steal one against the Bucks when we least expect it. During the 2018-19 season, New York beat Milwaukee in overtime on the backs of Kevin Knox, Tim Hardaway Jr., Emmanuel Mudiay, and Damyean Dotson. All four put up 20+ points. That was also the infamous Mario Hezonja stepover game.

The win moved the Knicks to 8-16 on the year and it appeared to be a major step forward for David Fizdale’s young squad. Unfortunately, they followed that win up with a five-game losing streak. Any potential momentum from beating the big, bad Bucks evaporated into thin air.

It served as a nice moment for fans to reflect on during an otherwise dreadful season, but nothing more.

Beat The Heat, Can’t Stay Hot

The 2019-20 season saw more of the same. The Knicks shocked the championship-bound Miami Heat in early January. Julius Randle and RJ Barrett combined for 49 points, 13 rebounds, seven assists, four steals, and just one turnover. Madison Square Garden was on fire for one afternoon.

But yet again, the Knicks followed up that victory with a string of clunkers. They lost their next three games by an average of 17.3 points.

Down the Rockets, Finish Strong

However, the Knicks were starting to turn a corner just prior to the NBA’s shutdown. Their signature win of the season came against the Houston Rockets in March. Barrett and Frank Ntilikina outdueled James Harden and Russell Westbrook in crunch time.

The victory was part of a seven-game stretch in which the Knicks won four games. Obviously, that’s not groundbreaking for most NBA teams, but for the Knicks, it represented progress.

Building Off the Bucks Win

Will the Knicks build off of their recent success or squander the momentum? They have a four-game road trip with the undefeated Cleveland Cavaliers up on Tuesday night. Escaping this road trip with two wins would feel like a success.

Thibodeau knows that the Bucks win means very little in the grand scheme of things. Building off of that win and continuing to improve is where the Knicks will really start to see legitimate growth.

“Every game, we’ll pull clips for them to watch – both good and bad,” Thibodeau told reporters. “The things that you did well and maybe we didn’t do enough of those things well to win the game. Every game that we can improve – and maybe we’re at 24-25 minutes of really good basketball – maybe we get it to 30 and keep pushing forward and to understand we’ve got to eliminate all the ways in which we beat ourselves first to put ourselves in position to win. And usually that’s your defense, your rebounding, getting your turnovers down. And so that’s what we’ve been emphasizing.”

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