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Former Knicks head coach Mike Woodson still has nightmares about Indiana center Roy Hibbert’s block on Carmelo Anthony eight years ago.
On May 19, 2013, Anthony drove baseline midway through the fourth quarter in Game 6 of the second-round series vs. the Pacers. Anthony rose up for the slam and got met at the rim by the Pacers’ former elite big man.
The Hibbert swat was a momentum-changer as the Knicks collapsed down the stretch in Indiana, were eliminated from the playoffs and haven’t been heard from since.
Until this season. Until Tom Thibodeau, with Woodson as his assistant for part of the season, sped to a 41-31 record. They compete at the Garden Sunday night in their first playoff game since that Indiana evening.
“Oh yeah, I still see it in my sleep,” Woodson told The Post earlier this week. “Melo was right there at the rim. Helluva play. That’s playoff basketball. It’s a game of inches in the playoffs. That’s why everyone has to be focusing for every key rebound, every key block like Hibbert’s. Game of inches.”
Woodson was part of this year’s magic as a Thibodeau assistant until March 28, when he left to coach his alma mater Indiana University. The Indianapolis native wants none of the credit for this fairytale but it is ironic when he rejoined the organization, the Knicks started winning again.
Woodson, a former Hawks head coach, kept his house in Atlanta. He will be on hand for at least one of the playoff games in Georgia. He misses the Knicks.
“When you have an opportunity to work with a group of guys that were assembled, it’s helluva group of players — not just basketball but individuals,” Woodson said. “When you build a team, you look for players you think might work well together on and off the floor. We generated that. We haven’t had issues off or on the floor. It’s a helluva combination when you’re trying to win.”
Woodson still is saying “we” and he’ll likely be voted a playoff share. And Woodson predicts the Knicks’ season is heading to a second round.
“I always was pleased everybody got to be on the same page,” Woodson said. “And I got to think defensively will be the key to the series. After awhile, everyone’s going to know what each team is doing after a game or two. I think it comes down to who defends. That’s been the Knicks’ signature this year. Thibs put in a system and we bought into the defense. That’s what kept the team in every game. We didn’t get blown out of many games.”
The 54-win club of 2012-13 was a magical ride, too, even if it contained a sad ending. Anthony was the “head of the snake.” Julius Randle is top gun now — a triple-double threat every game because of his unselfishness in spraying the ball out of double teams.
Randle posted six triple-doubles this season. Anthony has just one in his career – none with the Knicks. However, Woodson said the 2012-13 version of Anthony was his most unselfish. He finished third in MVP voting.
“Melo’s assists totals were great for that team,” Woodson said. “Everyone thought Melo was an isolationist guy that year. If you want [Kevin] Durant, LeBron [James,] Steph [Curry] to have the ball in their hands, you do put your best players in that position. But we had weapons all over the place. You couldn’t leave anyone. Melo’s overall game increased. Yes, he scored. But he was better giving it up than he had been and was better rebounding the ball.”
Anthony averaged 28.7 points – five points higher than Randle’s average – but just 2.6 assists compared to Randle’s 6.0. However, Woodson admitted Anthony had a lot of hockey assists that season – the pass that generated the assist.
Woodson, though, said this season’s Knicks are better than the 2012-13 edition in the category that matters. Those Knicks were an older group – with point guards Jason Kidd, Raymond Felton and Pablo Prigioni.
”This team is better defensively than that team,” Woodson said. “We put up some amazing numbers. Our defense was pretty solid. That team was, we put that team together — guys killed me early on about the older guys and it caught us at the end.”
Woodson effusively credits owner Jim Dolan for letting him break his contract. And he thanks Thibodeau for accepting him on the staff, even though they didn’t know one another personally. Knicks senior VP William Wesley made the hires of Woodson, Johnnie Bryant and Kenny Payne to Thibodeau’s staff.
“We were the new guys on the block,” Woodson said. “I thought our group fit well together. And Thibs had a system he wanted. I take no credit. It’s all Thibs. He thought it was the only way we can win — build a defensive team to win a close game.”
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