Philly takes a loss amid Joel Embiid’s injury

The 76ers opened their first round match against the Knicks at Madison Square Garden.

The Philadelphia 76ers and New York Knicks began their first-round series at Madison Square Garden on Saturday evening. The Sixers rode an emotional rollercoaster due to an injury to Joel Embiid and, although the big man was not ruled out of the game, lost 111-104.

Let’s break down Game 1 between the 76ers and the Knicks.

76ers player notes:

Joel Embiid: 29 points, 8 rebounds, 6 assists, 2 steals, 8-22 FG shooting

It took Embiid less than three minutes to score nine points. He was a monster to start the game and then seemingly got injured on a highlight-reel dunk. While it didn’t knock him out of the game, it was still another setback for the big man as he still seems to be getting used to the game.

The big man enjoyed the paint, but stretched the defense by making a few threes (and making some). His defense was groundbreaking, as was his presence on the boards despite being less than 100 percent. The Sixers were great when he played and very rough when he didn’t. Hmmm, sounds familiar.

Tyrese Maxey: 33 points, 2 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 blocks, 14-26 FG shooting

Maxey looked ready to go from the jump, playing hard and making his shots while playing to Embiid. He wasn’t nearly as good when Embiid was in, but was still on his A-game during his time alongside his co-star. He scored magnificently in the paint, weaving around defenders and scoring from difficult angles.

Knicks player comments:

Jalen Brunson: 22 points, 7 rebounds, 7 assists, 8-26 FG shooting

The 76ers successfully contained Brunson, surrounding him with defenders on all sides and forcing him into very hard shots. He led the Knicks in scoring simply because he made the most shots and, honestly, made Philly’s defense work really hard every time.

Miles McBride: 21 points, 3 rebounds, 4 assists, 7-12 FG shooting

McBride had only three total playoff points to his name going into this match. After torching the 76ers in the regular season, Deuce was an absolute madman in this opening game, knocking down shots from all sides of the arc and defending vigorously.

Game Summary:

New York City and Philadelphia have bickered, debated and argued over the other city’s sports teams for decades, without seeing a playoff game between their basketball teams. That changes now. Both the Sixers and Knicks had periods during the regular season where they looked like world beaters. Neither side won as much as they could have due to injuries, settling on either side of the 2-7 game in the Eastern Conference. This series was starting to get intense and competitive.

Knicks star Julius Randle and Sixers veterans De’Anthony Melton and Robert Covington were all out.

1st half

Kelly Oubre Jr. started with Brunson, but the Knicks used Brunson to set screens off the ball to get Tobias Harris to switch to him. With OG Anunoby starting to guard Maxey, Embiid went to work when he got the ball, forcing him to nine points while making his first three shots, two of which he was fouled. He and Maxey began their two-man game, freeing Maxey for a triple, giving Philly a 10 lead despite New York doing its typical damage on the offensive glass.

Brunson continued to run and gun for the Knicks, but forced the offense a lot, missing five of his first seven shots. He and Isaiah Hartenstein got into a series of handoffs and give-and-go plays, with Maxey being targeted on defense, though he stepped up with a block from behind on a Brunson jumper. Nico Batum, the play-in hero himself, came in for the Sixers as the first substitution of the game to replace Harris and match Brunson.

Mitchell Robinson and Bojan Bogdanovic arrived for New York shortly after. Buddy Hield came in a little later and made his debut in the playoffs of his eighth NBA season. Embiid did a great job spreading the ball around, assisting Batum for three plays while making a great pass to Oubre along the baseline, earning him a shooting foul. Batum covering Brunson tightly made it difficult for the Knicks to create efficient offense. Embiid’s 15 points in the first quarter gave Philly the lead by nine at the end of the period.

Brunson and Embiid both sat to start the next period. Triples from Bogdanovic and Miles McBride leveled the scoreboard as Harris came up empty on three shots early in the second quarter. It took some miraculous layups from Paul Reed to put Philly on the scoreboard in the opening minutes of the second quarter. Reed got off to a very good start on both sides of the ball as Brunson returned to a Knicks team that was gaining momentum.

Harris’ bad game continued with a charge call, his third foul, as Embiid returned to action. The big man showed no interest in taking his man off the dribble, opting instead to roam the perimeter and fire jumpers. A Brunson turnaround jumper gave the Knicks the lead. Embiid turned on the burners and charged ahead of Mitchell Robinson, drawing a foul on a layup attempt.

Embiid threw an alley-oop to himself off the board and flushed it to Anunoby. Then he landed hard on his left leg, lying in the paint for the aftermath of that possession. Finally he got up and walked back to the locker room. Disaster struck for the Sixers in the middle of a disastrous second quarter.

Before halftime, Robinson made his own spectacular play by blocking a Maxey layup and throwing it out of the path of his head. Tom Thibodeau rolled almost the entire second quarter with him and McBride, who then drained another triple. He saw the hot hands and let them boil, which ended up being a great decision.

The 76ers trailed 58-46 at halftime.

2nd half

Embiid started the half for the Sixers and didn’t look too zapped. He took the ball in for a layup, but also turned around a little late to contest an Anunoby dunk and decided to dive out of the way. Philly seemed to even it out and went to the two-man play with its stars. Nine quick points from Kyle Lowry helped Philly close.

The Lowry disaster continued when he fouled a Hartenstein triple and made every free throw. Maxey started to get in on the fun with some beautiful changes of pace/deception moves to score on the edge, cutting a 14 point deficit to three. An Embiid triple tied it, though DiVincenzo responded with his own. Embiid connected with Oubre twice, including with a dart off a bounce pass on the fast break, to put Philly back in front.

Embiid just did everything for the 76ers. He was a beast on defense, taking away passing lanes and keeping rim attempts to a minimum just by being a presence. With the scoring contributions he got from his teammates (namely Lowry), the Sixers jumped ahead on the scoreboard to start the fourth quarter.

The minutes without Embiid to start the final frame did not go according to the Sixers’ wishes, although they were not disastrous. The Knicks took a two-point lead when the big man returned with just over eight minutes to play. Brunson got a few minutes of rest and McBride of course kept the Knicks ahead by scoring. Even with Brunson back, McBride did a lot of initiation on offense.

The Sixers began to have more and more trouble scoring as the quarter progressed and relied on Embiid to bail them out with a few bad calls. The Knicks smothered the Embiid-Maxey duo with aggressive help. Robinson did a great job of opposing Embiid and keeping him busy on the glass on the other end.

Philly gambled again and again that Hart wouldn’t be comfortable shooting, and it worked very well, but it came back to bite them when Hart put New York up by six with a huge triple. The Sixers got overloaded to scare Brunson again and didn’t move on from Hart. Instead, they left Anunoby open, who made it a seven-point game. Hart put in another three, this one off balance, and got him going.

In the final seconds, a “F*k Embiid” chant could be heard after he lightly shoved Brunson during a scramble for a loose ball as the Knicks closed out Game 1.

Various observations:

  • The Knicks really did their offensive rebound thing and collected 23, a total they reached only once all season.
  • Oubre and Knicks superfan Ben Stiller talked trash through movie references before the ball even tipped off for the series. I absolutely love it. This series will be war.

Gane 2 is on Monday evening. Tip-off at MSG is scheduled for 7:30 PM EST.