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Knicks’ Tom Thibodeau named 2021 NBA Coach of the Year

Tom Thibodeau staged upsets all season and pulled off another one Monday night.

Thibodeau was named the NBA Coach of The Year for the second time in his career after leading the Knicks to a 41-31 record and breaking a seven-season playoff drought. The voting was based only on the regular season.

Thibodeau barely edged Suns coach Monty Williams. In a razor-close call, Thibodeau received 43 first-place votes and earned 351 total points to edge Williams with 340 points (45 first-place votes)..

But Thibodeau changed the culture with a roster predicted to win 22 ½ games by Las Vegas sports books and with the lowest payroll in the East. He still wasn’t favored to win the award by oddsmakers despite earning the conference’s fourth playoff seed.

“It was a special season,’’ Thibodeau said on a conference call Monday night. “Just the way this group sacrificed for each other, it was special. They gave me everything they had. Great determination. There’s no better place than the Garden to win. I know what this team means to the city.’’

Thibodeau earned the award with the Bulls for the 2010-11 season, his first season as an NBA head coach. Now similarly honored in his first season as the Knicks’ head coach, Thibodeau became the first person to be named NBA Coach of the Year in his first season as head coach with two different franchises.

New York Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau (99) looks at the scoreboard
Tom Thibodeau led the Knicks to their first playoff appearance in eight years.
Corey Sipkin

Five days ago, Thibodeau’s group was eliminated by the Hawks in five games, blown out in each of the last three games. This certainly took some of the sting away.

“I want us to learn from each situation,’’ Thibodeau said. “Obviously proud of the season we had. In the playoffs, you want to learn from it. You want the pain of the losing to be the driving force of the motivation this summer. In the end there’s 29 teams who fall short. What are we going to do about it? We’re going to take a couple of weeks to recharge and then get back to work. The next step is how hard are we going to work this summer.’’

Thibodeau said he was honored to join Red Holzman and Pat Riley, the other Knicks coaches who have won the award.

“I look at the career I had — to coach in New York, Chicago, Boston and Houston, I realize I’ve been very, very fortunate,’’ Thibodeau said. “I’ve been around great coaches and stolen from everybody.’’

Asked if he thought this team could win the East’s fourth seed, Thibodeau said, “Going into the season, we had some goals we wanted to set for the team — one was to win at home and build championship-caliber habits every day. We didn’t know how good we’d be but once we got around the players and saw how committed they were to playing as a group and sacrificing for each other, we knew we’d have a chance.’’

Thibodeau got the very best out of Julius Randle, who earned his first All-Star berth, and saw improvement from No. 3 pick RJ Barrett in his second season. But the bottom line is his team won. A lot.

“The commitment made by the players was special,’’ Thibodeau said. “They put a lot of extra time into shooting. That was a big question going into the season. How good would we be able to shoot the 3? Even after a day when they fell short, you looked forward to seeing them the next day because you knew the determination would be greater. They were an enjoyable group to be around.”

The 11-point difference between the first- and second-place finishers marks the closest margin since the current NBA Coach of the Year voting format was introduced for the 2002-03 season.

Utah Jazz head coach Quin Snyder finished in third place with 161 points (10 first-place votes). Coaches were awarded five points for each first-place vote, three points for each second-place vote and one point for each third-place vote from a global panel of 100 sportswriters and broadcasters.


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