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Knicks Defeat Sixers In Tough And Controversial Series


Knicks’ OG Anunoby Dunking over 76ers’ Joel Embiid. Via ESPN

This year’s campaign saw the second-seeded Knicks topple the seventh-seeded Philadelphia 76ers in six games. Many fans are lauding the series as one of the best first-round series in years. Every game of the series was wire-to-wire, showcased by the fact that the Knicks scored only one more point over the six games than the 76ers.

For the Knicks, their entire rotation made an impact throughout the series, it seemed as though every player in the rotation had a “game” of their own. Game 1 was Josh Hart and Deuce McBride, while Game 2 was Hart (again), Isaiah Hartenstein and Donte DiVincenzo. Game 3 (at the time) seemed like Jalen Brunson, despite the loss. Game 4 was OG Anunoby, Hart, Precious Achiuwa and Brunson. Game 5, Brunson once again. Lastly, Game 6 was really all of the Knicks that played. It was a tremendous team effort. Coach Tom Thibodeau frequently preaches a “next man up” and “staying ready” mentality and this couldn’t be more true for this Knicks team. 

Brunson struggled in the first two games of the series, with Kelly Oubre Jr. and Nicolas Batum giving him fits with their length. Yet despite Brunson’s two worst shooting games as a Knick, the Knicks prevailed on the backs of their other players. In Game 1, Hart knocked down four threes en route to a 22-point, 13-rebound performance. Deuce McBride scored 21 points while also recording three rebounds and four assists, knocking down his first four three-point attempts. Mitchell Robinson came off the bench and gave reigning MVP Joel Embiid fits, blocking four shots and grabbing 12 rebounds. Embiid shot 8-for-22 from the floor. The Knicks took Game 1 111-104.

Game 2 was much of the same for Brunson, shooting 8-for-29 from the floor. Hart was once again spectacular, playing all 48 minutes, posting 21 points, 15 rebounds, three assists, two steals and two blocks, knocking down four three-pointers in his second consecutive game. Embiid also struggled from the field, although he had a forceful impact, posting 34 points, 10 rebounds and six assists, despite going 12-for-29 from the field. Game 2 ended in controversy, as the Knicks completed one of the most insane comebacks in NBA history, resulting in a rare Mike Breen double bang as the Knicks came back from a five-point deficit in just 14 seconds. Many initially felt the refs missed multiple foul calls, which the NBA later confirmed in the Last 2 Minute Report. The Knicks took Game 2 104-101. 

Game 3 also had some controversy, as Embiid received lots of criticism for multiple apparent dirty plays, most notably bringing down an airborne Mitchell Robinson by his feet. Game 3 also was widely talked about due to just how many Knicks fans were present in the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia. Many noted just how loud the Knicks fans were over the broadcast, a trend that, much like Embiid committing questionable fouls against Knicks players, continued throughout all of the games in Philadelphia. Brunson began to find his shot in this game, scoring 39 points and dishing out 13 assists. Hart scored 20 points for the third straight game and Anunoby had 17 of his own. On the flip side, Embiid went to the free-throw line 21 times on his way to scoring 50 points for the 76ers. The 76ers earned their first victory of the series in Game 3, 125-114.

Game 4 was a defensive slugfest, with neither team crossing the 100-point threshold. Robinson was unavailable for the Knicks in this game due to a lower-body injury. Bojan Bogdanovic also suffered a season-ending injury in Game 4 after Kyle Lowry tried to beat him to a loose ball. Brunson continued his mastery in this game, posting a Knicks-playoff-record 47 points to go along with 10 assists. Hart had perhaps the best four-point game of all time, bringing in 17 rebounds and dishing out five assists and blocking three shots. His timely rebounds and great defensive effort kept the Knicks in the game throughout, especially during the fourth quarter. Despite not making a field goal, Hart finished with a positive +/-. Anunoby had perhaps his best game as a Knick to that point, with a 16-point, 14-rebound double-double, Anunoby was tasked with guarding the 7’0”, 280-pound Embiid from 1:25 left in the third quarter until the end of the game. Embiid scored just three points in the last 13 and a half minutes of the game and didn’t record a field goal. OG did a masterful job fronting Embiid, denying him from getting the ball close to the basket and making him uncomfortable when he did. Despite it being an unorthodox strategy, it was one that paid off for Thibodeau, who also subbed in Achiuwa at that point with Hartenstein in foul trouble. Despite only scoring one point, Achiuwa led the Knicks in +/-, mainly due to his defensive performance. He was tasked with being the primary help defender and he was able to record four blocks and seven rebounds, including a massive blocked three-point attempt on Joel Embiid. Embiid also caught flack for a play late in the game. With 27 seconds left, down four, Embiid had a wide-open look but chose to try and drive in to get a foul. Achiuwa played great defense, and Embiid was unsuccessful in his attempt. This helped lead the Knicks to a 97-92 victory.

Game 5 had yet another controversial finish. The 76ers were able to send it to overtime on the back of an insane Tyrese Maxey sequence, including a four-point play that the NBA later said he traveled on. This game was a gut-punch for the Knicks, who led by six with 26 seconds left in the fourth and ended up losing 112-106 in the extra period. Maxey capped off his historic night with 46 points, nine assists and five rebounds. Joel Embiid struggled from the field, shooting 36% but recorded a 19-point, 16-rebound, 10-assist triple-double. Brunson had yet another 40-point game and Anunoby had 17 of his own. Deuce scored 14 off the bench and Mitchell Robinson had seven rebounds, three steals and two blocks in his return. 

Game 6 saw the Knicks send the Sixers home with an all-around effort. DiVincenzo played all 48 minutes, scoring 23 points and dishing out seven assists. Hart had another double-double, with 16 points, 14 rebounds and 7 assists. Brunson also had a double-double, with his fourth consecutive 40-point game to go with 12 assists. Embiid killed the Knicks in the first three-quarters of his 39-point night. Buddy Hield, despite only scoring two points in the first five games, came to life with a 20-point performance. The highlight of the game was Anunoby’s and-one dunk over Embiid with under three minutes remaining. The 76ers followed up with a 7-0 run to bring the game within one point, when Brunson converted a foul line jumper, getting fouled by Oubre Jr. Maxey answered with an old-fashioned three-point play of his own to tie. With under 35 seconds left, the 76ers doubled Brunson, who broke free driving left and kicked the ball out to Josh Hart at the top of the key, who knocked down yet another huge three-pointer in this series. Embiid would convert a layup,and the 76ers played the foul game, leading to a Knicks 118-115 victory. 

This series was a tooth-and-nail bloodbath with some incredible performances. For the 76ers, Maxey once again solidified himself as a star, averaging 29.8 points, 5.2 rebounds and 6.8 assists per game. Embiid averaged 33 points, 10.8 rebounds and 5.7 assists per game. However, Embiid received a lot of criticism due to his multiple questionable plays on Knicks players, supported by his 3 Flagrant 1 foul calls this series, as well as his fourth-quarter play. Embiid shot 6-for-26 from the field (23%), 1-for-9 from three-point range (11%) and recorded five rebounds, nine assists and five turnovers in 59.5 fourth-quarter minutes. For reference, the Knicks backup point guard made 10 field goals on 21 attempts (47.6%), four of nine three-point attempts (44.4%), four rebounds, six assists and zero turnovers in the fourth quarter of this series. Despite great defensive efforts from Oubre Jr. and Batum, the 76ers were unable to close it out against the Knicks. Harris also averaged just nine points per game in the playoffs, including a 0-point Game 6, where he went 0-for-2 from the field. 

For the Knicks, Brunson averaged 35.5 points per game and 9 assists per game for the series. Over the last four games of the series, Brunson averaged 41.8 points and 10.3 assists per game. Per Basketball-Reference, Brunson is the only player to record 165 points and 40 assists in a four-game span in the playoffs. Hart, despite his 6’4  stature, led the series in rebounding, averaging 12.3 rebounds to go along with his 16.8 points per game. Despite his 15 points per game, Anunoby’s defense was certainly the most impactful part of his game and the same could be said for Achiuwa and Robinson, the latter of which held Embiid to 12-34 shooting from the field when guarding him. Robinson also led the series in offensive rebounds (tied with Hart) despite only playing in 5 games and only playing in 103 minutes. While many found DiVincenzo overall disappointing in this series, only averaging 12 points per game and struggling from the field after averaging 18.8 points per game after January 1st, he knocked down the biggest shot of the entire series and is looking primed to bounce back after a massive Game 6. McBride also killed it for the Knicks off the bench, shooting 43% from three and averaging 11 points per game in just 23 minutes per game. 

The Knicks are set to take on the Indiana Pacers in the second round, with game 1 on Monday, May 6 at 7:30 p.m. at Madison Square Garden.

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