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What was Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau thinking? He must limit minutes

Negligent is one word to use if you didn’t care for New York Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau’s decision to leave some starters in the game late in the fourth quarter of a blowout 107-90 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers on Tuesday.

Confused is another. Bothered is somewhere between the two. Senseless comes to mind.

With the Knicks trailing by 27 points and less than three minutes left in Game 2, Thibodeau still had key players, including All-Stars Julius Randle and Jalen Brunson, on the floor.

It was a mistake, and it almost cost the Knicks a serious injury to Randle who fell hard after Cleveland’s Jarrett Allen fouled Randle on a dunk with 2:22 remaining. He remained on the court for a while. The Cavs led 103-80 just before Randle’s dunk.

Referees gave Allen a flagrant foul one, and Randle is lucky he didn’t sustain a serious injury. Yes, that play could happen at any time at any point in the season.

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What a coach needs to avoid is that kind of play happening in a game that wasn’t close for much of the second half and in the second game of a winnable playoff series. (Likewise, Cavaliers coach J.B. Bickerstaff had no business keeping some of his starters in the game at that point, including Allen.)  

If Thibodeau doesn’t have the good sense to protect his players and the franchise’s investment, then the front office needs to step in.

Thibodeau said he wanted to get Randle some rhythm headed into Game 3 and that Randle asked for extra minutes. “Actually, I was going to sub Julius out, and he wanted to stay in for a couple more possessions just to find rhythm,” Thibodeau said.

It was avoidable. The coach needed to overrule the player’s wishes in the team’s best interest. No one doubts Thibodeau’s basketball acumen. He is a great tactician and a two-time NBA coach of the year with success in Chicago and he’s doing a quality job with the Knicks. But his major flaw is that he rides his players too hard for too long and it causes issues, if not injuries.

This is not new. This goes back to his Bulls days. He’s a throwback, and a lot of players embrace it. Thibodeau has adjusted to a degree.

He defends his minutes allocations. However, it’s one thing to play Randle 40 minutes in a close game. It’s another to have him in that scenario Tuesday night even at a reasonable 33 minutes of a 48-minute game.

It’s even more problematic when you consider Randle missed the final five games of the regular season with a sprained ankle and was listed as questionable for Game 1.

Randle wasn’t happy with Allen for the strong contest on a meaningless shot. He wasn’t happy with Bickerstaff.

He should also be unhappy with his coach for having him in the game.

Follow NBA reporter Jeff Zillgitt on Twitter @JeffZillgitt

This post appeared first on USA TODAY

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