The New York Knicks season concluded a week ago. A season after finishing as the fourth-best team in the Eastern Conference, the Knickerbockers finished the 2021-22 season in 11th place, missing the play-in by six games.
Die-hard Knicks fans surely are just now starting to leave their dark rooms for the first time in a week with beard stubble, unkempt hair and with an unpleasant odor emanating after spending days rewatching the final few games to feel something.
It surely didn’t feel as if this was the path fans were destined for. Again, coming off the playoff appearance, extending the Most Improved Player Julius Randle, signing Evan Fournier and local kid Kemba Walker, Knicks fans rocked Madison Square Garden back in October in that thrilling overtime victory over the Boston Celtics, who we now know is a very good basketball team. That first win led to four more over the next five games and fans were merrily skipping up and down the streets while shouting “bing bong” at one another and jokingly, yet seriously, mentioning a date to clear up the Canyon of Heroes.
But the next few weeks were rather rocky for the Knicks. Some nights, they’d bring their “A” game. However, the matter of turning that into a consistent stretch of basketball never surmised for the Knicks. “Bing bong” turned from a Knicks cult chant to a chant made to mimic and plant misery. The Kemba Walker experience was falling flat on its face, which led to Walker suddenly being benched by Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau and completely out of the rotation by the end of the month. The Knicks’ blazing hot start was extinguished in the month of November as New York went 6-9.
The play of the Knicks made the month of December even colder for the fans. The same issues that started to become a problem for New York in the month before carried over to December. The mediocre play on both ends of the court from the guard position, the sudden inconsistency from Julius Randle, the “When is RJ Barrett Going to Break Out?” waiting game, the subpar performances at the pivot. Injuries, specifically Derrick Rose’s sudden injury, and worries about the omicron variant of COVID-19 spreading also impacted the Knicks as the days got colder and shorter.
The Knicks’ season was destined for purgatory in the month of December, but the return of Walker to the lineup due to Rose’s day-to-day injury becoming into a two-to-three month recovery and a three-game winning streak that started on Christmas Day against the Atlanta Hawks somewhat salvaged the Knicks as they took home a 6-9 record in the month. Kemba Walker had a triple-double in that win over the Hawks. That three-game winning streak was the first for the Knicks since their blazing hot start.
Entering the New Year, the Knicks had a surprising record of 17-19. One would’ve thought that after a top-four seed, the Knicks were seriously going to be competing for a playoff spot, despite a more difficult look to the conference. Yet, the Knicks were struggling to tread the dangerous current that is the .500 mark. Everyone could see the Knicks needed to make adjustments.
Well, everyone but Tom Thibodeau.
The month of January brought more of the same, for the most part. The “When is RJ Barrett Going to Break Out?” waiting game was coming to an end and we would realize soon after, starting with a buzzer-beater at Madison Square Garden against the Celtics. But, Walker continued to look like a shell of himself, Fournier still looked awful on both ends, Julius Randle started a war with the fans early in the month, one that looks to still be ongoing, the lack of availability from Nerlens Noel started to draw the ire of Knicks fans, particularly since he had signed an extension in the offseason for another three years.
By game 41 of 82, which was on January 10, the Knicks were 20-21. That win in game 41 sparked another three-game winning streak that saw the Knicks go one game above .500 for the first time since late November, but a 7-8 record in the month was nothing for Knicks fans to brag about as they were three games below .500 to start February.
The shortest month was the most painful for Knicks fans. The Knicks went to the west coast before the All-Star Break. Barrett had his best game as a professional up to that point in Los Angeles against the Lakers, but the Knicks, who had started this trend a few games prior, blew another 20-point lead and lost to the Lakers. A few nights later, in Denver, the Knicks were getting blown out but Thibodeau kept Barrett in the game late and Barrett rolled his ankle on the last possession of the contest. They went into the break without Barrett and off the heels of an embarrassing loss to Josh Giddey and the Oklahoma City Thunder and blow another 20-point lead, this time to the crosstown rival Brooklyn Nets.
Barrett would return by the end of the month and had his best game as a pro against the Miami Heat, where he scored 46 points and easily could’ve had 50, had he made some free throws. However, the Knicks wasted that performance as well. They would fall in their final game of February and finish the month 1-9. Their lone win was a shocking win against the Golden State Warriors in San Francisco that felt like it could be a turning point in the season. By the end of the month, Walker had been removed from the rotation again, but this time was different. When he was removed in November, he was still in uniform and was on the bench. When Walker was removed in February, we never saw him again. The Knicks were 25-36.
March was the best month for the Knicks. Despite losing the first two games of the month, the Knicks snapped a seven-game losing streak against the Clippers in Los Angeles. The seven-game losing streak saw them dip to 13 games below .500.
Then, Tom Thibodeau finally made the adjustment fans were asking for since back in December and January.
Players like Barrett, Immanuel Quickley, Obi Toppin, Miles McBride, Quentin Grimes and Jericho Sims saw an uptick in minutes in what was becoming a lost season. Those men were able to keep most contests interesting with their play. All season long they were able to string together comebacks, picking up the slow starts from the starters, just for the coach to sub them out in the biggest moments of the game. By this month, it felt like Thibodeau let them play it out or play a little longer, at least.
Even Julius Randle had his best game of the season in March, scoring 46 points against Domantas Sabonis and the Sacramento Kings.
Towards the end of March, the Knicks were able to string together a four-game winning streak, their longest streak of the season, all while Randle missed three of the final six games of the month. Randle played on March 30 against the Chicago Bulls and scored 21 points on 16 shots from the field. He would sit the last few games of the season, reportedly due to a leg injury. The Knicks went 9-7 in the month of March and were 34-43.
The Knicks would go 3-2 in the month of April to wrap up the season. They went 17-24 in the final 41 games of the season.
The ending to the season makes some feel different ways. Some people are upset that the Knicks won 12 of their final 21 games. They wanted better lottery odds, they claim, as prior regimes have inadvertently poisoned them to believe this is the only way to build a team. Some are glad to see that it was mostly the kids and the role each of them played in this fine stretch to end the season. Others are upset that it led to Tom Thibodeau keeping his job.
Some will be miserable and reject the correct way to look at this: the kids, led by RJ Barrett, who is supposed to be the superstar, went 12-9 in their final 21 games. All while the Canadian scored 23.5 points per game in 20 of those 21 games as he didn’t play in the season finale.