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Tom Thibodeau finally found common cause with Knicks. Will it be enough?

Tom Thibodeau finally found common cause with Knicks. Will it be enough?

IT MUST BE liberating, in a way, for New York Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau to have a roster like this, stripped to its bare essentials, six or seven healthy players, each of them taking the court with the same mentality: dogged persistence, fierce competitiveness, ego-free play.

Trust the pass, he tells them, and so they do. Fight like hell, he tells them, and so they do. Get better every day, he tells them, and so they do.

Three or four of them play the entire game, or close to it, and that’s just the way it has to be. Thibodeau, who has been criticized his entire career for the workload he demands of his stars, finally finds himself with no choice. Maybe his whole career, through head-coaching gigs with three different teams over 12 seasons, has been leading to this very moment: His guys either play — and play, and play — or the Knicks lose. The math is pretty simple.

There’s Jalen Brunson, the world’s smallest giant, and the indefatigable and ridiculous (in a good way, mostly) Josh Hart, and Donte DiVincenzo, all loose-limbed confidence. There is, or was, the smooth and versatile OG Anunoby, whose hamstring injury in Game 2 sidelined him for the next two games and potentially the entire series.

The first four games of the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Indiana Pacers, with the Knicks winning the first two and the Pacers the next two, show how quickly Thibodeau’s freedom turned into confinement. He might be able to get away with running the same guys out there minute after minute in game after game, but they have to be the right guys. The Knicks were 31-5 with Anunboby on the court this season; his injury changed everything.

The rotation is really no rotation at all, no more than a quarter-turn before it snaps back in place. Julius Randle was injured during the season, and three more of the top eight — Bojan Bogdanovic, backup center Mitchell Robinson and Anunoby — have gone down in the playoffs. The situation, once dire, is now absurd. It all seems like the perfect convergence of coach and team, as if Thibodeau sent a signal out into the universe and these are the ones who responded.

Hart played 48 minutes in four straight playoff games before Game 3 in Indiana, a stretch that amounted to 192 straight minutes of game time. He is the first player to do that in the…

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