Of all the factors that played a part in the New York Knicks‘ resurgent 2020-2021 season, most would argue the hiring of head coach Tom Thibodeau was the catalyst.
The longtime defensive drill sergeant helped the team to their first playoff appearance in eight years this season.
And now, his impact has been recognized by the league. Thibodeau was announced as the recipient of the 2020-2021 Coach of the Year award on Tuesday night:
He received 43 first-place votes, and 351 points total, to beat out Phoenix Suns head coach Monty Williams.
It’s the second time Thibodeau’s won the award (2010-2011 Chicago Bulls) in his career.
New York finished the regular season with a 41-31 record, the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference, but were ultimately eliminated by the Atlanta Hawks in the first round of the playoffs in five games.
Still, for the first year of his tenure with the Knicks, most would argue Thibodeau overachieved.
He took what was once dubbed a ‘gutted, rudderless roster’ in New York and put together one of the NBA’s best defenses.
It’s only up from here for Tom Thibodeau and the New York Knicks.
Thibodeau: ‘It Was a Special Season’
Tom Thibodeau discussed his second Coach of the Year award on a Zoom call with reporters on Monday night.
Firstly, he made sure to give credit (via the New York Post) to his players:
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 Garden to win. I know what this team means to the city.
And on his group flaming out in the playoffs to the Atlanta Hawks, Thibodeau offered it as a learning experience:
I want us to learn from each situation. 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 week to recharge and then get back to work. The next step is how hard are we going to work this summer.
Not only is it his second time winning the award, but it’s his second time winning it in his first season with a team.
That’s never been done by any coach in the history of the NBA.
As far as the award’s relevance to the New York Knicks as a franchise, Thibodeau makes for just the third head coach to even receive the award. He joins Red Holzman and Pat Riley in that regard.
Monty Williams: ‘They’ve Had an Unreal Year’
Phoenix Suns head coach Monty Williams narrowly lost out on the Coach of the Year award, but if given the choice, he likely wouldn’t have it any other way.
His team finished as the second seed in the Western Conference with a 51-21 record. The arrival of Chris Paul played a large part in that, as well as the growth and development of third-year center DeAndre Ayton.
Phoenix is currently in the Western Conference Semi-Finals in just his second season as head coach.
Prior to Game One against the Denver Nuggets, Williams was asked about Tom Thibodeau winning the award.
He responded (via Gerald Bourguet on Twitter) humbly, speaking highly of someone he’d worked with previously:
They’ve had an unreal year. It’s pretty cool to watch somebody that I’ve worked with win an award like that.
The Suns’ head coach won the Michael H. Goldberg Coach of the Year award, which is voted on by the coaches. All in all, he didn’t make out too poorly either, with his team’s fate has yet to be decided.