MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Tom Thibodeau will never get as many championships as his friend and idol Bill Belichick, but he can brag about having more wins.
Thibodeau captured his 500th career victory with Saturday night’s 106-94 win, becoming the 36th NBA coach to reach the milestone.
Predictably, Thibodeau dismissed the achievement.
Just like Belichick would.
“Those type of things are just the mark of you’ve been around a long time and you’ve had really good players,” the Knicks coach said. “So I certainly appreciate it, but I don’t get wrapped up in stuff like that.”
Thibodeau was more expansive on Belichick’s departure from the Patriots, which followed a record six Super Bowl titles.
“Growing up in New England, I appreciate what he brought, and what he did there was just incredible,” said Thibodeau, 65, who grew up in Connecticut. “That’s the mark of greatness to do it the way he did it for as long as he did. I grew up thinking the Patriots never win and then my nephews grew up thinking the Patriots win every year. So it’s completely different perspective. But I think a lot of coaches learn from him — coaching is leadership. He’s incredible. He’s at the top of my list.”
Thibodeau is already the fifth-winningest coach in Knicks history with 148 victories in four-plus seasons, behind Red Holzman (613 wins), Joe Lapchick (326), Jeff Van Gundy (248) and Pat Riley (223).
Thibodeau went 255-139 in five seasons with the Bulls, then 97-107 in three seasons with the Timberwolves.
Jalen Brunson is “day-to-day” with his bruised calf, according to Thibodeau, but seemed to walk without a limp while on the sideline Saturday in street clothes.
The Knicks play next Monday afternoon at home against the Magic.
“He felt better. We’ll see [Sunday], another day of treatments and stuff, and then see if he can go on Monday,” the coach said.
Saturday was the first look of the season for the Knicks without Brunson, who sustained the injury during Thursday night’s loss to the Mavericks, a frustrating game for the point guard that ended with him limping out of American Airlines Center.
Miles McBride started in Brunson’s spot and performed well with a career-high 19 points on 7-for-10 shooting in 38 minutes. Malachi Flynn backed him up with nine points in 10 minutes.
“Super confident,” McBride said. “I knew if we won I’d [have] to be a big part of it. Jalen obviously scores a lot of points for us. I couldn’t put it on my back but I felt like I could give team an extra boost.”
Nevertheless, the Knicks missed Brunson’s organization and playmaking, which manifested itself in 22 turnovers.
It also exposed an issue with a lack of creators without RJ Barrett and Immanuel Quickley.
Kyrie Irving certainly won the battle of the point guards Thursday while blasting the Knicks, but acknowledged being envious of Brunson because of his family dynamic.
“I definitely look at that and say, ‘Man, I wish my dad was on the bench coaching me and I could look down at him and say, ‘What do you think about that play?’ ” Irving said. “It’s healthy, it’s a legacy league and to see them working together, and to see Jalen take that torch that his father left for him as he teaching him the game of basketball.”
Brunson’s father, Rick, an assistant with the Knicks, is frequently in his son’s ear during games with coaching advice.
Rick was also an NBA player with the Knicks and several other teams. Irving’s father, Drederick, played professionally overseas after growing up in The Bronx.
Interestingly, Mavericks minority owner Mark Cuban blamed Rick for sabotaging Dallas’ free agency negotiations with Brunson in 2022.
Brunson’s departure paved the way for the Mavericks to acquire Irving last season from the Nets.