Knicks back up to .500, tied for fourth place in Eastern Conference

Knicks huddle Julius Randle Tom Thibodeau

Knicks huddle Julius Randle Tom Thibodeau

Knicks fans were fired up about the club beating Indiana on Saturday and reaching .500 at this point in the season.

But Tom Thibodeau didn’t see any reason to celebrate.

“One game doesn’t take on more meaning than another. They all count the same,” Thibodeau said when asked about the Knicks climbing to 17-17 after Saturday’s win.“ And wherever you end up, that can be the difference between a lot of things. So we have to understand how important each day is, have to understand how important each practice is, we have to understand how important each possession is. And so if we want to fight for things we say we want to fight for, there’s a price to pay for that, and we have to do that.”

Thibodeau has talked all season about bringing your best to each game, practice, shootaround or possession.

And the message seems to have resonated with the Knicks.

New York engineered another comeback win in a game where they trailed by double digits. They did it behind strong defense and remarkable offensive stretches from RJ Barrett (24 points, 4-6 from beyond the arc) and Julius Randle (28 points, 10 rebounds, six assists, four steals).

The club is in fifth place in the Eastern Conference heading into Sunday’s game against Detroit.

Thibodeau started Derrick Rose at point guard with Elfrid Payton sidelined due to a hamstring injury.

Rose had 17 points, 11 assists and four steals, helping the Knicks climb back from a 16-point first-half deficit.

Barrett and Randle combined for 33 points in the second half, with Barrett hitting several big three-point shots down the stretch.

For Randle, the matchup with Indiana and Domantas Sabonis was personal.

“As a competitor, sometimes there are just individual matchups that you take – not personal like you don’t like the other guy – just personal from a competitive standpoint. So it was that,” Randle said.

The All Star forward also had been competing against Sabonis for a spot on the Eastern Conference team. On Saturday, he mostly outplayed Sabonis on both ends of the floor.

The Knicks were shorthanded on Saturday (no Payton) and their depth will probably be tested on Sunday. It seems unlikely that Payton or Taj Gibson will be available for the game against the Pistons.

Gibson hurt his ankle in the first half on Saturday and didn’t return. With Gibson out, the Knicks used some smaller lineups and relied heavily on Nerlens Noel, who played well amid some early foul trouble.

“We obviously needed it, needed the size, needed the rim protection. And then down the stretch when Julius got his fifth, (Noel) had to go over to guard Sabonis, who is a load to guard as well. Just his activity, making them miss at the rim, being on the floor, coming up with big plays for us.

“And then when he’s rolling to the rim he’s putting a lot of pressure on the rim, which is opening up a lot of other things for us. He’s a totally selfless guy, plays hard and whatever you ask him to do he does.”

Noel has started during Mitchell Robinson’s absence. If Gibson is out for an extended period, the Knicks may have to look to sign a free agent big man to backup Noel. New York would have to waive a player on the 15-man roster to make room for another big man.

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