new york knicks
AP Photo/Nick Wass

Although Taj Gibson’s game-saving stop on Karl-Anthony Towns only took 10 seconds, it represents so much more for the New York Knicks.

Danny Small

It’s easy to underestimate the preparation that NBA players put into their craft. After all, the film study, hours in the training facility, and rigorous game planning all happens behind the scenes. The amount of depth to every single possession of an NBA game is often overlooked.

Take Taj Gibson‘s defense of Karl-Anthony Towns in the New York Knicks103-99 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Sunday as an example.

We saw Towns miss a turnaround shot that would have given the Timberwolves a lead in the waning seconds of the game. Although that one-sentence summary neatly packages the gist of it, there was far more going on than meets the eye.

After the win, Gibson dissected the crucial play, giving the world a peek inside the mind of a 12-year veteran who has made a living off of these exact scenarios.

The seeds that bloomed into Gibson’s game-saving defensive play were planted long before Towns caught the ball in the post. The savvy veteran entered the game with 1:44 left in the fourth after Nerlens Noel picked up his sixth foul. Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau favored the Noel-Towns matchup all night, but he had complete confidence going to Gibson in this moment.

“That’s the great value in Taj, the ultimate teammate,” Thibs explained after the win. “He’s always been a terrific defender, he always stays ready, and he does whatever you ask him to do.”

After playing with Towns for two seasons in Minnesota, Gibson picked up on his offensive tendencies and took that knowledge with him to New York.

“I knew that he was really trying to get middle,” Gibson said on a postgame Zoom call. “That’s all I watched the last couple of days in these couple practices we’ve had, I know he wanted to get middle. And I know that’s his go-to move, and I just tried to warm up, be physical.”

It’s a tall task to ask any defender to stop an All-Star like Towns in a one-on-one situation in the post. Playing perfect defense won’t always be enough to bother NBA scorers and force the miss. Although Towns ended up getting a decent look at the rim, Gibson forced him into a shot that he didn’t want to take. That’s all you can ask for sometimes.

“And like I said before I got a lucky bounce and just tried to make it tough. Shots like that, you’re going to try to take away his strong suit, but he got a good look on it,” Gibson admitted. “But it all comes down to you being fundamentally sound, having good coaches, and one thing about it, I heard my teammates the whole time behind me talking to me.”

This 10-second play encapsulates everything that Gibson brings to the Knicks. He’s comfortable and capable in his role as the third-string center. Gibson sets an example for the younger players by putting in the work to stay ready for his opportunity and contribute to winning basketball.

With Mitchell Robinson out with a fractured hand, the Knicks desperately need Noel and Gibson to step up and fill the void. They have outperformed expectations up to this point and New York is 3-1 since losing Robinson.

Feel free to heckle me for leaning on a buzzword like a crutch, but this final play, and Gibson’s entire body of work as a Knick, feels like it’s part of a larger culture change at Madison Square Garden.

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