Patrick Reusse
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The New York Knicks were playing the Celtics in Boston a week ago. The Knicks' Julius Randle was set up to the left of the free-throw line and exchanging short passes with a guard.

Celtics analyst Brian Scalabrine watched for 15 seconds and said: "This is awful basketball.''

When the night ended, Randle had 20 points and 12 rebounds in a Knicks 105-75 victory. This came on Tom Thibodeau's 63rd birthday, back in the NBA as a head coach, but not also the basketball president as was the case in Minnesota.

The Knicks president is Leon Rose, Thibs' agent and friend from the Creative Artists Agency. Randle is one of four current Knicks that played at Kentucky for John Calipari, a longtime Rose client.

The New York media asked about this and Thibodeau called it a "coincidence.''

Too bad that coincidence didn't exist when Thibs was running his first Wolves draft in 2016. Calipari advised him to take one-and-done Jamal Murray at No. 5, but Thibs went with Kris Dunn.

Murray went two picks later and remains a star in Denver. Dunn is a roster filler (now in Atlanta) when not injured.

That was Thibodeau's No. 1 mistake in 2½ seasons, not trading for Jimmy Butler and putting some life — even if it was only for one 47-win season — in a moribund franchise.

Thibodeau was well-paid but out of work from his firing by the Wolves on Jan. 6, 2019, until his hiring by the Knicks on July 30, 2020. It's clear Thibs went through some self-introspection during those 19 months and decided to go with this coaching philosophy:

"I'm going to coach to win every night, and if that means getting league-leading minutes totals out of my best players, so be it.''

In other words, no change.

The Knicks had missed the playoffs for seven seasons. They had gone through six coaches, including old pal Kurt Rambis as a 28-game interim. The talent level was low and Rose decided to sit back as the Brooklyn Nets, six miles away at Barclay Center, became the eye of an NBA hurricane.

The Nets and rookie coach Steve Nash now have the all-time Big Three of Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving (when he shows up). Thibodeau's Big Three is Randle, R.J. Barrett and accepting candidates.

The Knicks started with two losses, won five out of six, lost five in a row and then won three in a row, including at Boston and Golden State. During the five-of-six stretch, Knicks beat writer Frank Isola tweeted:

"Tom Thibodeau is the best thing to happen to the Knicks in a long time, no matter what the Minutes Police say.''

The responses to Isola and in other outlets was amazing. Hard-core Knicks loyalists expressed relief — and even love — for Thibs' hard-playing team.

Randle, an OK player in the past, had 17 rebounds in back-to-back wins last week. He's averaging 20 points and playing 37 minutes. Barrett, a 6-4 guard from Duke, is also near those numbers.

The rest aren't much, but Thibs is riding his best, playing eight to 10 guys a night, and so far getting more wins than should be the case. As usual.

PLUS THREE

• The Green Bay Packers played the Duluth Kelleys in an NFL game in 1924 in Duluth. The Kelleys won 6-3. The referee was 26-year-old Halsey Hall, later to become a legendary sports broadcaster.

• The Washington Nationals are signed up to be Rochester's fourth big-league affiliate since 1928: Cardinals (1928-60), Orioles (1961-2002 and Twins (2003-19). No season in 2020, of course.

• How big was the No. 3 Gophers' victory over No. 1 Iowa in November 1960? Carl Rowan, later a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner, opened his Minneapolis Tribune feature story with this ditty: "Little boy blue, come blow your horn; The Gophers have creamed some Iowa corn …"