A day after Hawks interim coach Nate McMillan was fined for saying the NBA has an interest in the Knicks succeeding in the playoffs, Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau refuted McMillan's claim, saying the league does not lean toward his team.
“I know a lot of times people think that," Thibodeau said. "I’ve been here, I’ve been a part of the Knicks before, I’ve been an opposing coach with different organizations. I think the league is going to do what they think is best for the league."
Thibodeau cited his time as a Knicks assistant in the mid-1990's and early 2000's as evidence of the NBA not having a bias toward the Knicks. During the 1997 Eastern Conference semifinals between the Knicks and Heat, multiple Knicks players—including Patrick Ewing, Allan Houston, John Starks and Larry Johnson—were suspended following a fight during Game 5 in which the four left the team bench during the confrontation. The Knicks held a 3-1 series lead but lost three consecutive games to lose the series.
"But you can say that, in 1996-97 …we had six guys get suspended," Thibodeau said. "Patrick Ewing took a step off the bench and it wiped him out, and that was our chance probably for a championship. So I don’t think the league favors us."
The Knicks are in the playoffs for the first time since 2013, when they advanced to the conference semifinals and lost to the Pacers in six games. The Hawks are in the postseason for the first time since 2017. The teams have faced off three times during the regular season, with the Knicks winning all three matchups.
"I think the playoffs heighten everything, you’re fighting the same opponent over and over again," Thibodeau said. "We just want to focus on what we’ve got to do for Game 1.”
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