NEW YORK — After Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau benched his starters for the entire fourth quarter of Wednesday’s 112-100 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks, he dismissed the idea that they need more time to develop chemistry with each other.
“You know what they say: When it’s 10 games, they say you need 20,” Thibodeau said. “When you say 20, they say you need 30; at 30, you say 40.
“And before you know it, the season is over. So that’s a bunch of bulls—.”
What is indisputable is that New York’s starting lineup is, to this point, not working. The lineup — Kemba Walker, Evan Fournier, RJ Barrett, Julius Randle and Mitchell Robinson — has played more minutes than any other five-man unit in the NBA this season. But it has been outscored by 14.4 points per 100 possessions so far this season and has a defensive rating of 119.3 — more than seven points worse than the worst-ranked team defense in the NBA this season.
Every one of the starters was at least minus-15 in Wednesday’s game, and only Robinson finished with a plus-minus better than minus-20.
Thibodeau didn’t play any of them from the 2:01 mark of the third quarter, when he took out Randle in favor of Obi Toppin, until the end of the game, instead opting to ride the all-bench grouping of Derrick Rose, Alec Burks, Immanuel Quickley, Toppin and Taj Gibson.
“Yeah, just they didn’t play well,” Thibodeau said of his decision to sit the starters, none of whom spoke to the media after the game. “That’s it. We’ve gotta figure it out. And right now we’re playing well on the road and we’re not playing well at home, which is unusual. So we’ve gotta get that straightened out.”
Thibodeau’s choice had its merits based off how the game went. That all-bench grouping went on a 29-7 run from the final minute of the third quarter until the 5:06 mark of the fourth, erasing what had been a 22-point Milwaukee lead and tying the game.
Ultimately, that group ran out of gas, with the Bucks making three straight 3-pointers to break the game open once again late in the fourth and seal the win.
“We were just searching,” Thibodeau said, in explaining his decision to keep the reserves on the court. “Once we got the intensity into the game, got some stops, shared the ball, got some easy scores, got a good rhythm going, I thought the bench played well.”
Still, the performance by the bench group for the Knicks was indicative of their play all season, just like the starting group.
The all-bench lineup of Rose, Burks, Quickley, Toppin and Gibson is New York’s second-most used group this season, playing 61 minutes together. After Wednesday’s game, it has outscored its opponents by 19.9 points per 100 possessions.
It wasn’t enough to lift the Knicks to a win Wednesday, though, as the Knicks fell to 2-4 here at Madison Square Garden. That is compared to going 5-1 away from home so far this season, including wins in Chicago, Milwaukee and Philadelphia.
“S—, I really don’t know,” Rose, who scored 22 points off the bench to lead New York, said when asked why the Knicks have struggled at home. “I can’t put a finger on it. Like I said, it’s kinda hard processing it right now. Four points away; that’s the only thing that’s on my mind, you know what I mean? Four points with like three or four minutes left — like, man. Gotta find a way, you know? But I can’t put a finger on that.”