Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau, in a much lighter mood after New York snapped its three-game losing skid with a win over the Spurs, joked that center Mitchell Robinson did “cartwheels” when hearing he was demoted to the bench before Tuesday’s game.
But Thibodeau could have broke out in cartwheels himself after seeing how the move paid off on Tuesday night.
Robinson, in what was likely his best game of the season so far, played 22 minutes and was an all-around contributor, scoring 11 points while pulling down a team-high 14 rebounds (eight of them on the offensive glass) and blocking eight shots. He finished with a +13 on the night, tied with Immanuel Quickley for the best mark on the team.
“I thought he was terrific,” Thibodeau said. “Second and third effort, protecting the rim, making his decisions at the appropriate time, and then the offensive rebounding was huge.”
While Robinson obviously didn’t do cartwheels in elation when hearing of his demotion, he does believe that the move helped provide a spark to elevate his play when the Knicks needed it most.
“Kind of need to build that flame back that I had before I broke my hand and my foot,” Robinson said. “Just getting back to myself.”
Robinson’s injuries from last season hampered his progress under Thibodeau, while also affecting his summer work prior to this season. He bulked up over the offseason, but his conditioning lacked, especially with an inability to run while nursing his fractured foot. Robinson admitted that his stamina was still an issue prior to Tuesday’s game, but feels it improving, thanks to the Knicks’ own style of play, which forces him to get out and run.
“It helps a lot,” Robinson said. “They run, so I need to get down there so we can execute our plays. I’m still getting my conditioning in and also helping the team. With them running, it pushes me to run too, so it helps a lot.”
Robinson appeared to have more bounce in his step on Tuesday night, and it showed in the box score. He has trimmed down about 15 pounds since the season began, improving his conditioning on the fly while he and the Knicks look to get back on track. Tuesday’s win feels like a good starting point, even if it began with a demotion.
“I just wanted to go out there and play hard regardless,” Robinson said. “We need to start stacking wins, so that was the biggest thing we were talking about. Just came out with a different approach.”
Follow Ryan Chichester on Twitter: @ryanchichester1