After dropping Game One to the Atlanta Hawks on Sunday, the New York Knicks rebounded on Wednesday night, tying the series at one win apiece behind the team’s first playoff win since 2013.
Amidst a ton of speculation, Elfrid Payton maintained his role as a starter, with that even more likely to change now in light of his being benched after just five minutes.
But it was the center rotation that captured headlines even more so on Wednesday, with Mitchell Robinson alluding to a potential return for the playoffs.
Just hours before tip-off, the third-year center, who hasn’t played since March 27th, fired off this tweet:
It sent fans into a spiral, wondering if Robinson was preparing to have his own “Willis Reed” moment.
But Game Two came and passed, and the center made no appearance.
For now, that looks to stay the case, with there still no concrete timetable on a return for Mitchell Robinson.
Thibodeau: ‘He’s Still Several Steps Away’
Before the New York Knicks’ comeback Game Two victory over the Atlanta Hawks, head coach Tom Thibodeau was asked (via the New York Post) about Mitchell Robinson’s rehab and his pending return:
Just basically the same. He’s still several steps away. He’s doing well overall. Good, steady progress. We’re not taking any chances with him. He’s got to go step-by-step. He’s doing a little bit, but not much. Then the first step is doing individual stuff, then he has to be cleared for team practices. We’re just going to be patient and go through the process.
But as Jonathan Macri of Knicks Film School reported in his pregame stream on Wednesday, it’s possible that the Knicks are preparing for the possibility of the center making a return in this series:
I was told basically don’t rule out Mitch as returning, and that, he has been…the term I used was “briefed” on the Hawks. They are preparing as if there’s a possibility at least that Mitchell Robinson plays in this series.
It’s been only two months since Robinson suffered a broken foot back in March, so a return at this point would definitely seem premature, although the Knicks never set a timetable for his return.
Maybe a return during a potential second-round series against the Philadelphia 76ers is more realistic.
New York would be even more outmatched than they are now, and up against an MVP-finalist in center Joel Embiid.
For now, Tom Thibodeau and the New York Knicks are trusting Nerlens Noel and Taj Gibson to get the job done, with third-string big Norvel Pelle on stand-by. Things are all tied up going into Game Three.
Taj Gibson Shines in Second-Half Start
As much as New York Knicks fans were amped to see Derrick Rose on the floor, and not Elfrid Payton, to start the second half, no one ignored the fact that Taj Gibson too was starting, for Nerlens Noel.
The 35-year old big man and longtime Tom Thibodeau disciple put on a defensive clinic and even delivered a drunk shot that put the team up seven with less than two minutes remaining.
After the game, New York’s head coach labeled Gibson’s performance monstrous. The 12-year veteran finished his 68th-career postseason game with six points, seven rebounds, three steals, and an assist and block apiece.
Per Basketball-Reference/Stathead, the last player 35 or older to put up that stat line equivalent was LeBron James last season, and before him, Tim Duncan in 2015.
Other names on that list: David Robinson, Dennis Rodman, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Karl Malone, Kevin Garnett, and New York Knicks legend Patrick Ewing.
As Taj Gibson continues “turning back the clock,” fans are hoping Mitchell Robinson can speed his up.
READ NEXT: Derrick Rose Was in MVP Form for Game 2